Does a Web Office hurt Google or MSFT?

by Mathew on October 28, 2008 · 12 comments

So Microsoft seems to have finally woken up and decided to get serious about the Web — or at least semi-serious — by rolling out a cloud-computing platform called Azure and announcing the imminent arrival of Web-ized versions of its Office applications (my favourite response to these announcements came in a Twitter message from Sarah Perez of Read/Write Web). Obviously, the Web Office news is a shot across the bow of Google and its Google Docs — Microsoft is even using mostly Ajax just like Google, instead of its Flash-style Silverlight technology. But who does the rollout of a Web Office hurt Google more, or does it hurt Microsoft itself?

I don’t know the answer to that question, but I still think it’s worth asking. No doubt many users of Google Docs will shift to Microsoft’s version, in part because it will make integration with their existing corporate systems easier, or because their employers will make its use mandatory. Others may find that Microsoft’s Web apps offer better compatibility with regular Office programs (something that Google Docs still isn’t that good at, at least when it comes to advanced page layout and that sort of thing). But what about the competition between Microsoft’s Web Office and the real Office?

I would imagine that Microsoft is going to try its best to make Web Office just useful enough to entice people away from Google, but not nearly nice enough to tempt them to drop the regular installed version of Office. But no matter how hard it tries, there are likely to be small or medium-sized companies that decide it’s just as good to use the Web version as it is to pay $300 or whatever per seat to get an authorized copy of the desktop software. That’s going to be money right out of Microsoft’s pocket, since Office generates truckloads of cash for the software behemoth.

Maybe Microsoft will be able to manage the process so that it doesn’t cannibalize its Office franchise too much, or maybe it will err on the side of crippling the Web Office so that it doesn’t harm the installed software versions. But either way, that’s a tricky balance to strike.

  • http://shippingseven.com adondai

    That;s a bit of an arrogant way to describe it, “So Microsoft seems to have finally woken up and decided to get serious about the Web — or at least semi-serious”

    MS has been working on this vision for years now, its hardly as if they decided a few months ago and decided to crank out these products.

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  • http://www.bitcurrent.com Alistair Croll

    I think my favorite line was the “Azure sky of death.”

    It's a bit disingenuous to say MS hasn't been focused on the cloud. They run MSN and Hotmail, as well as high-level programmable platforms like Popfly. They have 400M online users. They've also been using the hosted version of Office to demo it to prospective buyers in the US for some time now.

    Perhaps a more accurate statement is that they haven't exposed the development platform to true development. Until now, it's been a tightly controlled set of tools, rather than one in which you can roll your own stuff.

    I find it fascinating that Microsoft, whose early focus on developers as the driving force gave them desktop dominance, has only now reached out to those developers with an on-demand platform.

    Put another way: Google wants to make everyone a hacker; Microsoft wants to make everyone a sysadmin; Apple wants to make everyone a media mogul. And their cloud strategies reflect this. Only Amazon, so far, wants to make everyone a developer.

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  • http://www.dracoware.com/blog rtwomey

    Another possibility could be that this further extends the Office dominance in business, and slows down the adoption of Google Docs. Many businesses purchase Office for the desktop as a necessary cost of doing business: they're not interested in jumping through hoops to save a few bucks (Open Office has only a fraction of Office users). Extending that idea, I don't think Google Docs could be a replacement for Office anyway, as these mainstream users just aren't interested in switching.

    Therefor, I think by giving users additional options for using their existing Office installation will only further solidify Office dominance and continue to give users just enough reason not to switch. So I see it hurting Google far more than it could ever hurt MSFT.

  • http://www.mathewingram.com/work mathewi

    That's a good point, Alistair — their approaches are very different.

  • http://shippingseven.com adondai

    I seriously don't understand how Google Docs can be seen as anything more than a simple note-taker… I'm a uni student and I use Docs for collaboration on group assignments etc and it really is handy… but anything more than that and it's a joke… I copy and paste into Word of course.

  • http://www.dracoware.com/blog rtwomey

    I certainly agree with you on that. I think people that promote Google Docs as an Office killer aren't quite understanding what Google Docs is all about (and what it isn't). It's excellent for collaboration, and I use it regularly with people at work. However, it's definitely NOT an Office replacement.

    Microsoft realizes this, and I think that's why having an online presence to compete with Google Docs will hurt Google far more than cannibalize any Office sales.

  • http://shippingseven.com adondai

    Exactly… I could use Office Live for collaboration I guess, but the other great thing about Google Docs is the simplicity and also the fact you can invite anyone with an email address to collaborate, even if it's not a Gmail account, no sign up involved… Office Live requires signup which is a pain if you just need to do stuff fast.

    Also I think the other major point so many tech bloggers seem to forget is that MS moves with the curve, not ahead… no matter how much people have been banging on about moving to the 'cloud', it's really only now that mainstream businesses and users are actually interested…

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  • http://www.shaneenclarke.org Shaneen Clarke

    I've been using Google Docs almost everyday and I just notice I haven't opened my MSword for months now. I find web services more handy.

  • http://www.shaneenclarke.org Shaneen Clarke

    I've been using Google Docs almost everyday and I just notice I haven't opened my MSword for months now. I find web services more handy.

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