Microsoft recently announced that the consumer version of Office 2010 will soon be available for free: Office Web Apps. This might just make Google start sweating. If not, it should.
Let’s face it: given the choice between Google Docs and the polished, well-tested and universally approved Microsoft Office, which would you choose? Yep, Office. After all, then you know your recipient will be able to open, read and edit the document, know how it works and not have to sign up for any new account. Office is the industry standard. Now you can access the docs everywhere, without e-mailing them, carrying them on a flash drive or bringing your laptop to the site where you need your docs. You can log into any PC and get your stuff. You can get the docs on your mobile phone. It’s where you are when you need it.
A better product will prevail with users, whether ad-supported or purchased. Since Microsoft Office is already established the industry standard, I assume Microsoft could charge more for their Office Web Apps ads than Google can for their Google Docs. I think going with the free consumer version is a strategically smart move on Microsoft’s part – and doing it sooner than later, before everyone has converted to Google Docs is crucial in order to maintain their position as the industry leader. At this point, half of the 500 million Office users in the world are operating on pirated or outdated version, says Chris Capossela, VP of the Microsoft Business Division in Redmond, Wash., in an interview with the Seattle Times May 9, 2010.
Additionally, Office Web Apps has features not available in Google Docs, such as video editing for PowerPoint, photo editing for Word and new social networking functions for Outlook that let users import contact information from Facebook and LinkedIn without leaving the e-mail software. Google dismisses the new features and says “we’re not interested in new features. We’re interested in new behavior,” but Google is missing the point. Lack of useful features is a major complaint of Google Docs. Microsoft’s Office Web Apps include the features consumers need, use and trust, plus some new ones, and allow this “new behavior” to happen on the Microsoft platform.
Finally, as Google has grown, concerns over Google’s privacy practices and data storage have surfaced. The December incident where hackers broke into Google’s password system Gaia did nothing to help Google’s reputation. Do you really want to trust them with your documents when you’re not sure they know who accesses their servers? Apparently, a lot of potential users are concerned, citing disappearing data, questions about whether Google scans their documents, and how Google uses the information collected. All the information you give Google – knowingly or otherwise – will stored and used.
Microsoft has a pretty clean record in this field, and continued that path with the search engine Bing not storing search data indefinitely. Oh yeah, and Google Docs is currently not supported in Europe. For security reasons.
Inge Scheve is a graduate student in the University of Washington MCDM program. Besides being a full-time student, Inge is a web editor for the Nordic ski manufacturer Madshus AS in Norway (www.madshus.com), a staff writer for Norwegian ski and bike web site www.skiogsykkel.no and a freelance sports reporter. This post was first published on her blog http://ingescheve.wordpress.com on May 10, 2010.