Google Docs reaches 20% of businesses: Can Office Web Apps fend off the threat?

Today's technical preview of Office Web Apps may be one of the most important pre-beta launches in Microsoft's history. It comes only a day after an IDC survey found that in an astonishing 20% of workplaces Google Docs is "widely used." Will Office Web Apps be enough fend off the threat?

Computerworld reports that 20% of respondents to a survey said that Google Docs was being "widely used" in their workplace, a big jump over the 5% who said in December 2007 that Google Docs was being widely used.

Google Docs is most likely being used a complement to Microsoft Office, rather than a replacement, because the survey also found that 97% of respondents said that Microsoft Office was being used widely in their workplace.

That's for now, though. If business become comfortable with Google Docs, they're not likely to want to pay for both Microsoft Office as well as Google Docs. And given that Microsoft Office is more costly than Google Docs, that could spell trouble for Microsoft.

Office Web Apps, like Google Docs, is Web-based, and so users need not have the client version of Office in able to use it. I'll have a fuller review next week, but in my initial look at it, I can say it's a visually richer experience than Google Docs, and looks and feels very much like using Office, but on the Web rather than via a client. That's both good and bad --- good because the experience is more pleasing than using Google Docs, bad because at least in my initial testing, it's slower than Google Docs.

So will it be enough to fend off Google Docs? It will certainly give Microsoft shops ammunition to stay with Office rather than switch to Google. Consumers used to Office will appreciate it as well, and it can certainly be useful on netbooks. But at some point, the battle may come down to price, support, and cloud performance --- and it's far too early to tell how that will turn out.

Copyright © 2009 IDG Communications, Inc.

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