Google Docs 'widely used' at 1 in 5 workplaces, survey reports

IDC survey suggests Google Docs may emerge as threat to Microsoft Office

Microsoft Office enjoys near total dominance in the workplace, but it could be getting a serious challenge from Google Docs, a new survey by market research firm IDC suggests.

The study's main finding is that about one in five respondents reported that Google Docs is "widely used" in their workplaces -- though possibly as a complement to Microsoft Office.

IDC's survey of 262 people -- a significant number of whom are senior managers at businesses of various sizes -- points to rapidly increasing interest in Google Inc.'s cloud-based office applications.

In a similar survey by IDC in December 2007, just 5% of the respondents reported that Google Docs was "widely used" at their workplaces. IDC's most recent survey, done in July, found wide use of Google Docs in 19.5% of the companies surveyed.

"Google Docs is not yet supplanting Microsoft, but the fact that Google Docs is being picked up so quickly shows tremendous momentum, and that's a huge threat to Microsoft," said Melissa Webster, the IDC analyst who conducted the survey.

Despite the growth in popularity of Google Docs, the latest survey showed that the level of use of Microsoft Office has remained essentially unchanged in the past year and a half, with more than 97% of the respondents reporting that Microsoft Corp.'s suite of applications is widely used in their workplaces. That finding indicates that companies are using both tools. But Webster said Google Docs could blunt Microsoft's efforts to promote its own Web-based tools.

The IDC survey didn't seek data on how many users subscribe to paid Google Apps services. It's possible the survey findings include ad hoc adoption by employees who choose to use Google Docs on their own, without an official decision by the IT department to adopt the software -- though in some instances, the IT department might be aware of the situation even if it isn't undertaking an official enterprise deployment.

But Webster believes use of Google Docs in the workplace -- whether the deployment is official or unofficial -- might give Microsoft customers increased clout when it comes to negotiating with the software vendor. "Just the threat of a company going to Google Docs could potentially provide the leverage that a buyer might want on negotiating an upgrade to Microsoft Office," she said.

This data from IDC comes at the same time that the U.S. government and Google are moving ahead with plans to encourage interest in cloud-based services.

The federal government's CIO, Vivek Kundra, this week launched Apps.gov, a cloud-based offering similar to Amazon's Elastic Compute Cloud (EC2).

And Google this week announced its own plans to set up a Web-based Google Apps offering for the government and build data centers and networks that meet government security standards.

Microsoft has its own plans for the government. The company now offers Exchange and SharePoint via the cloud, as well as Office Communication server and Live Meeting. Early next year, Microsoft aims to release Office 2010, which will include a cloud version.

Microsoft will give its customers multiple options, along with the ability to access Office Apps through the cloud from Microsoft data centers. That capability will also be in a box that customers can install in a data center, said Susie Adams, chief technology officer in Microsoft's federal government unit.

Of the 262 respondents to the IDC survey, 80% were based in the U.S. and 64% worked in IT, with the remainder coming from the business side. Moreover, 26% the respondents were C-level executives, and 23% were vice presidents or directors; the titles of the remainder were not specified.

The respondents' employers ranged in size from fewer than 100 employees to more than 5,000. Companies of all sizes were fairly evenly represented; 35% of the respondents were from companies with fewer than 100 workers, 31% of were from companies with more than 5,000 employees, and the balance worked at companies that fall between those two extremes.

The survey didn't set specific criteria for deciding whether Google Docs was "widely used" in the workplace; it was up to the individual respondents to determine what that meant.

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