If you’re one of the top cats in the Microsoft business division, the Google I/O conference must be one of the most irritating things of the year.
At I/O, Google always seems to find a way to squeeze the fun from Microsoft’s master plan to rule the business world. This year, the ‘something’ comes in the ability to edit Microsoft Office documents in Google Docs.
At face value, it doesn’t seem too serious. But when you stand back and look at it, it takes on far more significance than first impressions convey.
Who Needs Office?
Equally important is the fact that Google Docs enable users to open Word, Excel and PowerPoint files, make changes and then save them onto the Google cloud in their native formats.
By enabling users to edit Office documents through the cloud-based platform, it removes one of the biggest obstacles to Google Docs adoption. It also puts Google right up there with Microsoft Office as an option for enterprises looking for a business productivity suite.
OK, we know. Microsoft Office has a lot more punch than Google Docs or even Google Apps, offering all kinds of functionality that Google still hasn’t introduced.
But Google Apps is still cheaper than Office 365 — and in light of this week’s Outlook.com outage, it is probably looking a lot more attractive, especially to those who couldn’t access their emails.
It is also worth remembering that, as we saw in April, a lot of business users are using only limited functions in Office and could quite happily dump it, take up Google Docs and still work away without any problems.
In fact, the research by SoftWatch showed the average employee spends only 48 minutes per day in MS Office programs, and most of that time is spent on Outlook. Other Office application use usually occurs for viewing and light editing purposes, with only a tiny portion of the workforce identified as heavy users.
The new editing functionality Google is offering is also available for mobile devices along with offline support that means that users can work away on their documents even when they are out of mobile reach and have the changes uploaded once they have a signal again.
Google vs. Microsoft
This should really put the cat among the pigeons in the business productivity space. Why? Because along with Google’s storage upgrades, it makes Google Apps a real alternative to Microsoft Office.
This will be particularly irksome for Microsoft given that when it was launched originally, even Google didn’t see Docs as an alternative to Office, but as a handy app to have under the Google Apps umbrella.
However, over the years Google has been building out its productivity capabilities to the point where along with email, Google users can follow their documents through the enterprise, see who’s working on them, what edits have been made, who’s accessing them, and whose desk they are landing on. In fact, all the neat collaborative functionality that makes these suites… well sweet!
By pushing those documents into the Google cloud, it also introduces users to Google storage (which has also been upgraded), videoconferencing and mobile working through Android.
While this is not a killer blow for Microsoft Office, it places the competition between Office and Google Apps into a different league.
The question that Microsoft is going to have to respond to now is this: If business users can access their Microsoft documents through Google Docs — cheaper — why should they return to Office if they can access their documents in the Google Cloud?