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Google set to challenge Microsoft's office monopoly

Not great software, but certainly good enough

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Comment Google is now head-to-head with Microsoft in the Office Apps market, as you may have guessed from the recent Google Apps announcement. What you get from Google is word processing, spreadsheet, calendar, chat, web page creation, and email.

There are two price points:

  1. It's free. Just log on to Google and register. But prepare to be advertised at and you'll get less storage space (what Google gives you is still all you're ever likely to need if you archive your email every year or two).
  2. Google Apps Premier Edition costs $50 per user per year and you can use your own branding and domain name on email, etc.

So will it actually take market share from Microsoft? I think the answer is "yes". Here are the five reasons why:

  1. Google has the brand to make it possible. Free open source office components have been available for many years, via Open Office (and other products). They work very well. However, they never dented Microsoft's monopoly. They may have taken a small sliver of the market, but not yet a significant slice. The problem (I believe) was branding rather than product quality. If I was forced to decide, I'd personally go for Open Office rather than Google Apps, but most organisations wouldn't because "Who's behind Open Office?". This comes down to branding. Google has a powerful brand. It was sufficient to convince Proctor and Gamble and General Electric to set up trials.
  2. Google Apps is not great software, but it is good enough. Actually, the word processor is really good for collaborating on documents because its versioning works well and it's easy to understand. The email is good too. But there's no PowerPoint equivalent yet and the spreadsheet is weak. But who cares? Microsoft Office is ridiculously over-featured and for 50 per cent of users (if not 80 per cent) Google Apps will be good enough.
  3. Office software costs a small fortune over time. First, you have to upgrade regularly (or eventually) which never costs nothing. Second, sometimes staff need to be trained in the new versions (or just to be effective users) and third, possibly most importantly, there's administration. When you add it up, you quickly realise that if an organisation ditches Microsoft Office for just some of its users, it will probably save more than $50 per Office user per year. The Google offering is a no-brainer, wherever Google Apps fits the need.
  4. Google isn't done yet. Think of this as release 1.0 of a server-based office applications suite and you get the picture. Google is going to build on this. As companies sign up, Google will have users to support and the users will bitch about the stuff that's inconvenient and it will all improve in time. Google will gradually move up the food chain to try to satisfy the more sophisticated users.
  5. Now think Web 2.0. The Google Apps software has all its interfaces exposed so that other software can link to it. Not more than two days after Google announced Google Apps, Avaya leapt straight in, announcing that it was going to integrate its considerable suite of communications software with Google Apps - its eyes firmly focused on the SMB market. Salesforce.com will also integrate with Google Apps and probably most SaaS (Software as a Service) vendors will follow suit. So without even launching a channels program, Google is acquiring pretty powerful partners.

So what does it all mean? Well, the last point listed is the one that really threatens Microsoft. If Google Apps becomes the de facto integrated Office Suite, Microsoft Office is toast.

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