Google Apps No Threat to Office -- Yet

One of the big announcements of the past few weeks was Google Apps Premier Edition. Some analysts say Microsoft should be worried. Can Microsoft and other competitors ignore Google’s offering? No, but I don’t think they need to worry at the moment.

Reports of Microsoft Office’s imminent demise naturally make me think of Mark Twain, who memorably said that reports of his death were “greatly exaggerated.”

Don’t get me wrong. There’s a lot to like about many of Google’s offerings. Gmail is very good, for example. Others, such as Google Talk, aren’t bad, but they’re hardly best of breed. As for the new productivity applications, they lack far too many features for most people to use them on a regular basis.

Michael Gartenberg

Michael GartenbergOther online offerings, such as Zoho and wikiCalc (the latter created by Dan Bricklin, who did that other spreadsheet, called VisiCalc, way back when), offer more features and are at the moment more compelling. Stand-alone products such as StarOffice and Corel WordPerfect Office offer far more features than any online tool and are good choices for folks who want alternatives to Microsoft Office.

Some of you are no doubt thinking that no one needs all the features in programs such as Office. Perhaps. I suspect I use only 20% of the features in Office about 80% of the time. Maybe you do as well, but here’s the thing: My 20% are probably different from your 20%. And my needs vary depending on what I’m doing. When I write research reports or blog posts, I rarely care about word count, for example. When I write this column, it’s a critically important feature. Google Apps just won’t cut it for most business users, even casual ones.

Technology similar to Google Apps has been around for years without making any significant impact. In the ’90s, IBM rebuilt Lotus SmartSuite as a set of limited-function Java applications. I have a copy, still shrink-wrapped. And the truth is that if any company other than Google had brought this stuff to market, we wouldn’t even be talking about it.

No online productivity suite is going to overcome the drawback that your information and documents can’t be accessed when you’re not connected. I travel a lot, and I wouldn’t get much done if I couldn’t have access to all my documents when I’m on a plane. Yes, connectivity is becoming more ubiquitous, but it’s still not possible to be online at all times. As for caching, that’s an imperfect solution, and I don’t want to think about the nightmare of syncing between online and offline stuff.

So don’t write Microsoft Office’s obituary just yet. The New York Times reported that Nielsen/NetRatings had pegged Google’s Docs and Spreadsheets at 432,000 users in December. The Times also quoted Microsoft as saying that Office has 450 million to 500 million users. Even if those numbers aren’t totally accurate, I don’t see the need for Microsoft to close up the office and go home just yet. And alternatives such as Zoho and Corel aren’t in any immediate danger either.

Still, it should be mentioned that in 1910, Mark Twain did indeed die. Reports of his death were no longer exaggerated. Like all good things, Office is likely to be replaced by something else someday. But this isn’t the day, and Google Apps isn’t the product.

Michael Gartenberg is vice president and research director for the personal technology and access and custom research groups at JupiterResearch in New York. Contact him at mgartenberg2@optonline.net. His weblog and RSS feed are at http://weblogs.jupiterresearch.com/analysts/gartenberg.

Copyright © 2007 IDG Communications, Inc.

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