Google, Microsoft and Office

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In an article in the Economist, Google CEO Eric Schmidt suggests a year of increasing competition between Google, Microsoft and others:

“In 2007 we’ll witness the increasing dominance of open internet standards…Today’s desktop software will be overtaken by internet-based services that enable users to choose the document formats, search tools and editing capability that best suit their needs.”

Dare Obasanjo hopes that as Google’s intentions become more clear that the Office Live team will step up to the challenge. I’m guessing they will. It may take some time, but they’ll come around.

Currently it sounds like the Office team is not that concerned. Co-lead Antoine Leblond says of browser-based Office-like efforts: “”The simple argument that ‘this is good enough for 90 percent of what we do’ has fallen on its face over and over and over again…When it comes to mission critical things and key pieces of how people run their businesses, the threshold is higher.”

His argument has made sense over the 15 or so years. Back up the clock though, and it’s easy to recall the same claims made by the mainframe and minicomputer folks about the fledgling PCs. In fact, the naysayers were one reason Mike Riddle took it upon himself in the early 80’s to write AutoCAD. People said it was impossible to write a CAD application on a desktop PC. It wouldn’t have enough features. It would be too slow. It would be incompatible with the standard CAD workstations. To them, their market was safe. Roll forward to the mid-90s and the world looked so much different. 10+ years is all it took.

Reasonably so, the Office team is justifying their future existence on what they see today. Most assuredly the future will bring surprises. Practicalities will change.

Take product licensing, installation, backup, and management for instance. Assuming more and more people use more and more devices–and yet still want access to their information in more places–are they going to install all their software everywhere (assuming they can)? It’s doubtful. Further, drop the relative price of “PCs” by a factor of 3, 4, or 5 over the next 10 years. What does this do to the consumer’s mindset in terms of purchasing software? I think a lot.

Are we at the crossover point yet where online apps outperform rich-client apps? Nope. Is it on the horizon? I think so. In fact, I think it’s closer than it appears to be in our history mirrors.

Take word processing for instance. Dare isn’t too sure if it makes sense as a browser-based effort. I agree, when you look at the current browsers. However, the day has already arrived where many people use their browser not just for browsing, but for editing too. Online email and blogging are two common tasks today. They alone justify additional word processing capabilities to be built into the browser. Spell checking, grammar checking, smart correction, better formatting, and the like should all be built-in. The difference between the word processor and the browser editor will shrink. Yes, this assumes that browser technologies will need to adjust–but I think with the competition that has evolved in the browser space there’s a good chance that they will take place.