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

Google Docs could well be applying pressure to Microsoft. Right now, their “Office Lite” project code-named Albany is in closed beta. But can Microsoft make Office work in an on-line world?

Microsoft logo in blackGoogle Docs could well be applying pressure to Microsoft. Right now, their “Office Lite” project code-named Albany is in closed beta. But can Microsoft make Office work in an on-line world?

Microsoft’s project, code-named “Albany” is a combination of about 4 different services and packages, which is being made available through retailers and requires installation:

“Project Albany includes a combination of Office, Office Live Workspaces, Windows Live OneCare and the Windows Live suite of services in one package. It is expected to be available in retail outlets such as Best Buy, sources familiar with the company’s plans said yesterday.”

Google logoContrast that with Google Docs, which requires only an account with Google, is provided directly from Google and is free.

Straight away, there are problems afoot. By requiring an installation and disseminating their products via their expansive retail channels, Microsoft are constructing a battlefield of obstacles, snares, traps and barricades to Google’s white picket fence, with a gate.

In a recent Microsoft financial announcement, profits are on a 3 quarter slide:

“Sales in the division selling Office and other business applications fell, hit by lower demand.”

As trends go, that’s the one you don’t want any real repetition of. With that as a backdrop to Albany, plus Google Docs, Microsoft are under no small amount of pressure to deliver.

This time last year, I had this to say about Google Docs & Spreadsheets:

“Right now, Google Docs & Spreadsheets does not, I repeat, does not compete with Microsoft Office.

Nor does the Google Apps suite of applications, which includes the aforementioned Google Docs & Spreadsheets.

Simply offering a one-for-one, like-for-like suite of applications doesn’t really add up to something on a par with Microsoft Office, largely because Office is so vast.”

That was then and this is now. Of course, Google Docs is still nowhere near Microsoft Office in terms of feature set and pure utility, but it’s a damn sight closer than it was this time last year.

What might we see in a Google Docs 12 months hence? Question is, what might we see from Microsoft Office 12 months from now?

Microsoft Office — software strategies with military precision

Microsoft are acutely aware of the threat Google Docs poses at the low end. Couple that threat with the growing presence of Open Office and Microsoft are staring at something of a strategic dilemma.

Left to their own devices, they’re already their own worst enemy. To remodel Office for the web is going to be a challenge in its own right, fraught with the very real prospect of releasing a web-enabled version of Office that would eat its elder sibling alive if the price point is wrong.

That said, looking further forward in time, say 2 years from now, Microsoft might need to be brave and make Office Home and Student — which includes Word, Excel and PowerPoint — free or steeply discounted, assuming they’re serious about competing with Google, who’re inching closer & closer to them in terms of software functionality and feature set with every update they issue.

In switching the comparison, Google are too fast & loose with their updates. Unless you’re scanning their various product ‘blogs every hour, it’s likely you’ll get stuck somewhere between disclosure of a new update and the issuing of the update itself. Put more simply, Google give you bugger-all advanced warning with their software updates.

In the defense of Microsoft, you’ll have read so much about one of their software updates, the T-shirt will now be thread-bare.

With their Project Albany, Microsoft seem to be offering a set of services you won’t see with any version of Google Docs. But then again, Google don’t do operating systems. And the only reason Microsoft are offering anti-virus and firewall software is because their Windows OS is so flakey to begin with:

“Windows Live OneCare is a security service that includes firewall and antivirus protection. Windows Live services include hosted e-mail, search, photo-sharing and other services.”

So I have little incentive to praise Microsoft here.

On the plus side, Word, Excel and Powerpoint are known quantities, while on the major plus side, I’ve read only good things about Windows Live Writer, included also.

Clearly in long-term thinking mode, Microsoft announced their new ‘open’ Cloud Computing strategy called Live Mesh at the Web 2.0 Expo:

“Microsoft says Live Mesh can be used to create an online network of devices, from your PC to your mobile phone.

Files and folders, such as documents, music and photos, on those devices can be synchronised online and accessed via a web browser.”

As a strategy, it’s got legs. There’s doubt that Microsoft will give it traction, too. However, doubts linger in the form of a large question mark regarding the actual openness of Live Mesh.

Gone are the days when what Microsoft said & did was done by all as if law. Now, things are more open and no one company can force their agenda onto everyone else as de facto.

In the second installment, I’ll be looking at the recent Salesforce & Google deal and excerpts from an interview with Ray Ozzie…

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

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By Wayne Smallman

Wayne is the man behind the Blah, Blah! Technology website, and the creator of the Under Cloud, a digital research assistant for journalists and academics.

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