Ever since Google first launched things like “apps for your domain” and bought Writely, CEO Eric Schmidt and others have been singing the same song: namely, that the Internet behemoth has no intention of putting together a competitor to Microsoft Office. At the Web 2.0 conference, for example, he said “We don’t call it an office suite. It’s not an office suite.” Google does not want to compete with Microsoft, he and others have said repeatedly.

google office1.jpgIf Mr. Schmidt and his friends Larry and Sergey don’t want to compete with Microsoft, they have a funny way of showing it. As they have added features such as spreadsheets and wikis and bundled all of them together — and are now launching them directly into the corporate market as a suite in everything but name — it’s obvious that what Google really didn’t want was to admit that it was going to try and compete with Microsoft. Better to plan a sneak attack, all the while protesting innocence. Has that really accomplished anything? I’m not sure. I think it might have been better if Schmidt had come right out and said they were going after Microsoft before now — he likely would have been greeted with cheers.

Google’s previous bundled apps — which you can now think of as Google Apps Consumer Edition — were obviously a dry run for what the company has just launched, which is essentially the same suite, with email, documents, spreadsheets, calendar and 10 gigabytes of storage, for just $50 per user per year. In case you’re wondering, that’s about 1,000 per cent cheaper than Microsoft Office (I’m exaggerating, but not by much). And they are providing 24-7 support and guaranteed 99.9 per cent uptime.

But can Google guarantee that the Internet, or my specific provider, will have 99.9 per cent uptime? Probably not. To me, the missing piece is still some kind of offline app that will cache documents for when Internet access isn’t available, like Zoho is doing. Google’s Office suite (let’s call it what it is) might be fine when you’re at HQ with a T1 line, but what about when you’re in a regional office in Poughkeepsie, or on the road? Don Dodge makes a similar point here.

Further reading:

Mary Jo Foley, who knows a thing or two, says Google might want to revisit the history of Microsoft’s failed Hailstorm project, which she says proved that businesses don’t want to store data in “the cloud.” But my friend Paul Kedrosky says that he thinks Google’s apps could easily chip away at the small to medium-sized business market, where companies don’t need or want to pay exorbitant sums to run all of Microsoft Office. And Henry “I used to be a famous Wall Street analyst” Blodget admits that he was wrong when he said Google would never go up against Microsoft Office.

About the author

Mathew 2430 posts

I'm a Toronto-based senior writer with Fortune magazine, and my favorite things to write about are social technology, media and the evolution of online behavior

3 Responses to “Who, us? An Office suite? Never.”
  1. I think Mary Jo Foley is dead-on about businesses not wanting to store data in the cloud. It’s a fact. And while Paul K. may be right about SMB’s preferring this over paying the full cost of MS Office, there are other ways to do this (OpenOffice, for example), which are a) free, and b) don’t force you to turn over your business communications to a third-party.

    There is surely room for all these sorts of solutions, and new types we haven’t seen (much of) yet, besides.

    It’s tempting to search for a single, elegant, unified theory of network-centric applications, but unifiying the desktop and the web may turn out to be like unifying general relativity and quantum mechanics: a real brain-bender.

  2. Thanks for the comment, Vanessa. I still think the answer is apps and services that blend online and offline, the way that Zoho is trying to. That’s where I expect Google to go next — and perhaps Microsoft as well. I certainly would be if I were them.

  3. Google certainly doesn’t want to call themselves an office suite…but when you search for ‘Online Office’ in Google, the first ad that comes up is ‘Office tools from Google’ :)

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