Google Office Taking Shape…

A little over a year ago I blogged some ideas about a Google Office product. Well, they’re doing it piecemeal, but the suite appears to be taking shape.

Writely                        ~= Word

Google Spreadsheets  ~= Excel & Access

Gmail                         ~= Outlook

Google Page Creator  ~= Powerpoint / Frontpage

This is a small problem for Microsoft right now, but it’s a real problem 10 years from now.  When I entered the workforce 13 years ago, Word Perfect was the norm, and Microsoft Word was starting to gain some ground.  It wasn’t the norm because the features were great, it was the norm because people needed to create documents.  WYSIWYG editors took hold as technology caught up, and word processor has stayed pretty much the same ever since, with most updates seeming to only change the UI to match the Windows flavor of the day.

The real problem is that web-based word processors, spreadsheets, etc. are good enough.  Beyond good enough, they offer data protection, collaboration, and the possibility to integrate with search in ways that make research easier and more productive.

In response to the Google announcement, Robert Scoble Wrote ‘If I was a Microsoft product manager over on Office I’d send every blogger a free copy and say “please compare to Google Office.” I’d love to see the blog hype if we did that.’  I’m sorry to burst your bubble, but I’ve tried both, and nothing in the Office Beta has made me a believer yet.  In a bit of a self-fulfilling prophesy, I really don’t like the ribbon bar.  I’m sure it’s great, but if there was a compatibility mode, I’d turn it on right now.  I like knowing where things are.  That consistency has kept me from really giving competitors like a fair shakedown.  By making such drastic changes to Office, you’ve lowered my perceived cost to switch. 

I’d wager that 95% of the people who use office don’t use 95% of the features (I know, the ribbon bar is supposed to address the usage models, I say blah…).  Office has been good enough for most of us since Office 95.  I’m sure there are power-users who will fawn over the new formatting options, but they aren’t going to pay the bills.  Students, and this is Microsoft’s biggest problem, Students are going to think Writely and Google Spreadsheets are good enough for writing papers & analyzing lab data.  Entire colleges might decide to save their student’s some licensing costs (to offset skyrocketing tuition) by standardizing on a Google Office Suite.  The “My computer crashed” late-paper excuse disappears, since the data is stored in the ether, across multiply-redundant Google data centers.  (Aside: Imagine how easy it would be for Google to mine the data for plagiarism. Bonus reason for school administrators to get onboard…)  These students will graduate comfortable and confident with how Google handles their data.  After graduating, these students will work their way up into management, get advanced degrees, and eventually, they’ll be deciding how to manage companies’ data, and Google will now seem to be a reasonable option.

Like I said, the clock is ticking on the desktop office suite as a cash cow…