Robert Scoble points out that in a feature-by-feature comparison, Microsoft Office beats Google Spreadsheets. Agreed. It’s not even close. The same can be said against StartOffice/OpenOffice–although the gap isn’t as large.
You can also point out that Google Spreadsheets is limited “labware” at this point. Not quite alpha. Not quite beta. More like “conceptware” instead. Who knows if Google is committed to growing the product? There aren’t too many end users that are going to stop purchasing Office and wait in line instead for an invite to Google Spreadsheets.
However, these feature-by-feature comparisons are missing a key point: market growth. This is oh so important. Fast growing markets are huge magnets. For individuals. For investors. For capital.
Will it be enough to nourish an ecosystem? Will the developers follow? Hey, Will Google even create a developer model for its spreadsheet app?
From an ISV standpoint, right now there’s no comparison whatsoever between what’s available in Office and what opportunities Google Spreadsheets offers. However, if Google can figure out a way to leverage its mashup programming model with Google Spreadsheets, who knows.
In this area, though, I’d say keep your eyes on Microsoft. Over the years Microsoft has demonstrated time and again that it understands developers. Others have tried, but in the end they’ve proven to be more product or services companies than platform companies. Microsoft is at its heart a platform company. Notice how the Office products are becoming more and more like platforms in themselves.
As a developer what do I want to see? Two things from Microsoft: First, I’d really like to see browser-based, Office apps that leverage the storage, mobile accessibility, and collaboration/sharing that the web provides. Why? Because you can learn a lot by doing. Microsoft can’t just watch this one. Second, I’d like to see APIs (collaboration, remote storage, synching, etc) that make all of these features as easy to add in a rich client app as they would be in a “browser-based” one.
And from Google I’d like to see the developer story expanded–or created in many cases. How can I add ink to GMail? Or the Google Calendar? Or Writely?
Update: Joe Wilcox suggests that Microsoft shouldn’t let its paranoia take over and react too strongly to Google Spreadsheet. He argues, we don’t even know if Google Spreadsheets is ever going to be a real product and besides even if it does become widely available, it won’t have much more use than for casual consumers and small businesses and as a result there won’t be much impact on Office one way or the other. Could be. However, are you suggesting that there’s a market to grow into here? If so, let me flip your logic around. What if Microsoft had released a browser-based Office-like solution first? Why not have a comparable 2 to 5 person team making the same effort? Publicly? Why not play with Google’s mind instead of talking up Live and how much it won’t be an online Office? As you suggest it most likely would not have negatively impacted current Office sales and possibly even expanded the Office line further into the home and small businesses. Imagine what this would have signaled to the markets? Why cede this to Google?
Actually, I can answer all these questions myself. I understand why. I can’t fault Microsoft one bit. However, this round I give the nod to Google. They earned this news cycle. I do, though, look forward to seeing how Microsoft responds. In the long run, the competition is a good thing. We’ll see better, more connected, more accessible products. And as a developer I look forward to exploring new ways to provide value to myself and others. Who said the software industry was dead? These are exciting times.