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Microsoft “Office Lite” to take on Google Docs? Part 2

Tuesday, 29 April 2008 — by

Microsoft logo in blackMicrosoft Office faces greater and more committed competition now than at almost any other time since its inception. Will we see Microsoft innovate or imitate their way to greater successes?

In the first installment, I looked at Project Albany as a possible Office Lite and how Microsoft might consider positioning such a software package.

In this final installment, I’ll be looking at how the competition may be conspiring against Microsoft and how Microsoft’s vision of an open, shared platform could be pivotal to the future success of Office.

Salesforce & Google —the enemy of my enemy is my new strategic partner

Salesforce logoTwo things came together that won’t help Microsoft keep a clear head. One is “writ large” fact while the other is rumour. The former involves a strategic partnership between Salesforce and Google, specifically their Docs suite:

“We’ve been informed that the on-demand enterprise software company [Salesforce] will begin reselling Google’s Web-based applications such as Google Docs to its customers. These Web apps will be available within Salesforce.com and tightly integrated into its service.”

The latter involves Salesforce dropping 4,000 Windows PCs in favour of Macs:

“According to a post on Alex Curylo’s Under The Bridge blog, Salesforce.com may become one of the largest switchers of all time. Curylo’s source tells him that 4,000+ staff will be issued Macs when their leases expire…”

Google logoWhile this is still rumour, it’s the timing that’s crucial. The pure distraction value is enormous, given the size and potential scale of the aforementioned deal between Google and Salesforce.

And the benefit to Salesforce in allowing such a rumour to persist? There is little love lost between them and Microsoft. So while Microsoft are having nightmares about Office, there’s an outside chance they’re not committing serious enough thought time to their CRM (Customer Relationship Management) strategies, which collide head on with those of Salesforce.

Might we throw in the growing appreciation of Apple as a serious Enterprise player? And what about Microsoft’s fear of antagonizing the powers-that-be being so strong that they can only watch as Apple eat away at the edge of networks with both servers and clients?

Microsoft will eventually go fully web-based with Office, but it’s the transition that’s got the potential to do them the most harm, since Office and Windows are just about the only things that make the really money for Microsoft.

All the best laid plans…

In an interview with Chief Software Architect and apparent all round nice guy Ray Ozzie, we were offered a glimpse into the broader, holistic scale of Microsoft’s Cloud Computing strategy.

Asked whether he thought Microsoft’s entry would be cost-effectiive, Ray had this to say:

“Well, it’s unlikely that we would get into it if we didn’t think it was going to be a profitable business. So we’ll just manage it to be profitable. It’s going to have different margins than classic software, or the ad (-supported) business.”

Taking this and matching it with all of the other smaller pieces, Microsoft have layer upon layer of software platforms, interlinked in ways I dare say even Ray Ozzie would struggle to commit purely to memory.

Sounds great, doesn’t it? All those resources, working as one. Thing is, words are easier said than turning them into deed.

It’s great if they can make it work, but even a cursory examination highlights the intricate, deeply interconnected nature of their ambitions, hampered even further if, architecturally speaking, the underlying mechanics aren’t right, which seems to be the case with Microsoft.

By way of an example, Windows Vista has effectively been sin-binned by a great number of corporate clients in favour of its predecessor, XP. Now take a look at the number of viruses and the sheer volume of known exploits for not just Windows but plenty of their other software offerings.

Microsoft apologists would have you believe this is because they’re such a large target. If that’s the case, why is it not the same for Apache, the leading web server software? Apache commands a healthy lead while Microsoft IIS trails, exploits and gaping security holes inclusive.

My feeling is, unless Microsoft really think like Google — which is ironic, since I’ve often said Google ought to think like Microsoft — and play a harder game with their Office products, they’re going to lose significant market share at the low end of the office productivity market, which will then progress upwards, like an incurable disease.

What happens if Google go beyond the Salesforce deal and strike arrangements with colleges & universities? That’s grass-roots stuff, which is where Google can really harm Microsoft.

When all’s said & done, while ever Google is giving something away that’s free and simple to use, despite the dearth of features when compared to Microsoft Office, free beats paid-for any day of the week and twice on Sundays.

Microsoft’s Office party — everyone’s invited!

But if Microsoft can really make Live Mesh the backbone of not just Office, but of their other various initiatives, well that is a big, big deal.

Yes, we’ve seen what the Open Source community can do when they apply themselves collectively, but could they replicate something like Live Mesh or similar?

I’ve no reason to suspect they couldn’t, but if they started now, they’d still be behind a year or two behind Microsoft.

As said in the previous installment, some doubt Microsoft’s commitment to making Live Mesh open. Thing is, I don’t. I think Microsoft fully understand the power of being open. Whether it amounts to anything is a different matter all together, though.

I think they’ve seen how neatly and effectively Apple embedded their proprietary offerings inside an Open Source software shell and liked what they saw.

No one can ignore the relevance of mobile devices. People are now on the move and they want to take their digital stuff with them. Live Mesh seems to be about making that happen, but in a way that personal & business needs a met.

Good software is indispensable software; the kind of software you can’t live without. Right now, Microsoft Office doesn’t qualify.

But if Office was to become part of a shared, open platform that just works, like the iPod + iTunes does, and crucially, in ways Google Docs presently can’t, Microsoft could have a success on their hands…

« Microsoft “Office Lite” to take on Google Docs? Part 1

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David Bradley → Tuesday, 29 April 2008 @ 17:55 BDT

I toyed with the idea of switching to Google Docs for writing, but have yet to make the leap, apparently I cannot add my custom wordlists yet (and I have some big hefty medical and scientific ones), but more worrying is always the thought of how would I work if Google were inaccessible for whatever reason (regardless of Gears)?

db

Wayne Smallman → Wednesday, 30 April 2008 @ 20:13 BDT

I see your point, but what if your computer crashed?

I’d say that’s more likely than Google going down.

But then there’s always your internet connection to mix things up, too…

David Bradley → Thursday, 1 May 2008 @ 8:44 BDT

Yeah, it’s more likely that my computer would crash than Google go down, but there’s been a spate of metal thefts (including copper telecoms cabling) round these parts, so connection outages are possible.

db

Quikboy → Thursday, 1 May 2008 @ 9:18 BDT

I hope there’s a Microsoft Office Lite in the works. I mean Office is still the best, and I don’t really trust Google with my data.

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