DISCLAIMER: This post does not reflect the opinions, thoughts, strategies or future intentions of my employer. These are solely my personal opinions. If you are seeking official position statements from Microsoft, please go here.
Last week, Microsoft announced Office Live Workspace which is billed as an online extension to Microsoft Office. Unsurprisingly, the word from the pundits has been uniformly negative especially when comparing it to Google Docs.
An example of the typical pundit reaction to this announcement is Ken Fisher's post on Ars Technica entitled Office Live Workspace revealed: a free 250MB "SharePoint Lite" for everyone where he writes
Office Live Workspace is not an online office suite. The aim of OLW is simple: give web-connected users a no-cost place to store, share, and collaborate on Office documents. To that end, the company will give registered users 250 MB of storage space, which can be used to store documents "in the cloud" or even "host" them for comments by other users equipped with just a web browser (you will be able to manage the access rights of other users). However, and this is important: you cannot create new Office documents with this feature nor can you edit documents beyond adding comments without having a copy of Microsoft Office installed locally.
As you can see, this is not a "Google Docs killer" or even an "answer" to Google Docs. This is not an online office suite, it's "software plus service." Microsoft's move here protects the company's traditional Office business, in that it's really positioned as a value-add to Office, rather than an Office alternative. Microsoft has seen success with its business-oriented SharePoint offering, and Microsoft is taking a kind of "SharePoint Lite" approach with OLW.
The focus of pundits on "an online office suite" and a "Google Docs Killer" completely misses the point when it comes to satisfy the needs of the end user. As a person who is a fan of the Google Docs approach, there are three things I like that it brings to the table
- it is free for consumers and people with basic needs
- it enables "anywhere access" to your documents
- it requires zero install to utilize
The fact that it is Web-based and uses AJAX instead of Win32 code running on my desktop is actually a negative when it comes to responsiveness and feature set. However the functionality of Google Docs hits a sweet spot for a certain class of users authoring certain classes of documents. By the way, this is a textbook example of low-end disruption from Clay Christensen's book "The Innovator's Dilemma". Taking a lesson from much another hyped business book, Money Ball, disruption often happens when the metrics used to judge successful products don't actually reflect the current realities of the market.
The reality of today's market is that a lot of computer users access their data from multiple computers and perhaps their mobile device during the course of a normal day. The paradigm of disconnected desktop software is an outdated relic that is dying away. Another reality of today's market is that end users have gotten used to being able to access and utilize world class software for free and without having to install anything thanks to the Googles, Facebooks and Flickrs of the world. When you put both realities together, you get the list of three bullet points above which are the key benefits that Google Docs brings to the table.
The question is whether there is anything Microsoft can do to stem what seems like inevitable disruption by Google Docs and if so, does Office Live Workspace improve the company's chances in any way? I believe the answer to both questions is Yes. If you are already a user of Microsoft's office productivity software then Office Live Workspace gives you a free way to get "anywhere access" to your documents without having to install anything even if the computer does not have Microsoft Office installed.
As I mentioned earlier, a number of pundits have been fairly dismissive of this and declared a no-contest victory for the Google Docs approach. Steven Burke has an article entitled Five Reasons Google Docs Beats Office Live Workspace where he lists a number of ways Google Docs compares favorably Microsoft Workspace. Of his list of five reasons, only one seems like a genuine road block that will hurt adoption by end users. Below are his reasons in bold with my comments underneath.
Steven Burke: Office Live Workspace Does Not Allow You To Create And Edit Documents Within A Web Page. Google Docs Does
This is a lame restriction. I assume this is to ensure that the primary beneficaries of this offering have purchased Microsoft Office (thus it is a software + services play instead of a software as a service play). I can understand the business reasons why this exists but it is often a good business strategy to cannibalize yourself before competitors do it especially when it is clear that such cannibalization is inevitable. The fact that I am tethered to Office in creating new documents is lame. I hope competitive pressure makes this "feature" go away.
Steven Burke: Microsoft Office Live Workspace Has A 250 Mbyte 1,000 Average Office Documents Limitation. Google Docs Does Not.
I don't worry to much about space limitations especially since this is in beta. If Microsoft can figure out how to give people 5GB of space for email in Hotmail and 1GB file storage space in SkyDrive all for FREE, I'm sure we can figure out how to give more than 250MB of storage to people who've likely spent hundreds of dollars buying our desktop software.
Steven Burke: Microsoft's Office Live WorkSpace Is VaporWare. Google Docs is Real.
The vaporware allegation only makes sense if you think (a) it is never going to ship or (b) you need a solution today. If not, it is a product announcement like any other in the software industry meant to give people a heads up on what's coming down the line. If industry darlings like Apple and Google can get away with it, why single out Microsoft?
Steven Burke: You're Better Off Trusting Google Than Microsoft When It Comes To Web 2.0 Security Issues.
I don't know about you, but over the past year I've heard about several security flaws in Google's AJAX applications including Cross Site Request Forgery issues in Gmail, leaking people's email addresses via the chat feature of Google presentations, cross site scripting issues that allowed people to modify your documents in Google Docs & Spreadsheets, and lots more. On the flip side, I haven't heard about even half as many security issues in Microsoft's family of Web applications whether they are Office Live, MSN or Windows Live branded.
In fact, one could argue that trusting Google to keep your data secure in their AJAX applications is like trusting a degenerate gambler with your life savings. So far the company has proven to be inept at securing their online services which is problematic if they are pitching to store people's vital business documents.
Steven Burke: Office Live Workspace Is Optimized For Microsoft Office Word, Excel and PowerPoint Data. Google Is Optimized For Web 2.0.
I guess this means Google's service is more buzzword compliant than Microsoft's. So what? At the end of the day, this most important thing is providing value to your customers not repping every buzzword that spews forth from the likes of Mike Arrington and Tim O'Reilly.
Tomoyasu Hotei - Battle without Honor or Humanity