Much ado about Writely - this changes very little

The jubilation being expressed by some over Google's acquisition is well-founded but not for the reasons you might think. The concerns about another vector into users' personal data for the all-seeing Google eye are every bit as well-founded. What's wrong - oh so wrong - are the cries from the Geek Chorus that Microsoft Office is the target. The Google Office, whatever it ultimately turns out to be, will not change the rules of the game for business anytime soon.

The jubilation being expressed by some over Google's acquisition is well-founded but not for the reasons you might think. The concerns about another vector into users' personal data for the all-seeing Google eye are every bit as well-founded. What's wrong - oh so wrong - are the cries from the Geek Chorus that Microsoft Office is the target. The Google Office, whatever it ultimately turns out to be, will not change the rules of the game for business anytime soon.

Having waited through the weekend to make sure the Apocalypse hadn't arrived, I can confirm that things are as they always have been. Redmond has not fallen into the sea. There's an entire continuum of opinion being expressed right here among ZDNet's bloggers as you would expect from this diverse group. Richard McManus, chronicler of the Web 2.0 movement declares "Game on Microsoft!" Mitch Ratcliffe, in one of his most Rational Rants yet, opines "I'm suspicious that Edwards and others celebrating the Writely acquisition as a victory for open data have become blind to the erosion of privacy that comes with a Google-hosted service. I'll pass on the religious fervor, thanks."

Venturing a bit further afield, Joe Wilcox at JupiterResearch's Microsoft Monitor explains why  Google isn't the real challenge facing Microsoft at all:

"Microsoft's risk here isn't Google competition but its rival (and others) accelerating the commoditization of the consumer word processing functionality. And the problem isn't just the consumer market. According to JupiterResearch surveys, last year more businesses with 250 or more employees used Office 2000 than Office 2003."

The other post that really resonated was from 37Signal's Jason Fried who wrote:

"There’s plenty of talk about Google building up a full office suite. But I don’t think that’s what it’s about.


I think this is about Google building up half an office suite. Google knows that most people don’t need the full Microsoft Office collection. They don’t even need most of it. They don’t even need half of each product. They just need a few things (like creating a quick, simply formatted document and sharing it with someone). And it looks to me like Google wants to offer those few things. Google wants to build the “Just Enough Office” because that’s really want the people want."

While I'm not 100% sure who "the people" he's referring to are (37Signals users? We the people?), his notion feels right. Most of my non-technical family and friends would use a Writely-like service. Some would downright love it. And most of them freak out at the cost and complexity of Microsoft Office. But, since most of them haven't gone out and bought the Office suite anyway, their adoption of Google's word processor would have pretty much zero impact on Microsoft's bottom line. In fact, the only impact on Microsoft might be a slight reduction in support inquiries for older version of Works which come bundled on so many commodity PCs these days.

There is a perfect storm of commentary swirling around the news. Having waited through the weekend to make sure the Apocalypse hadn't arrived, I can confirm that things are as they always have been. Redmond has not fallen into the sea. A new star has not appeared over the Googleplex. Life goes on.

You can follow the madness if you care to. Memorandum has a cluster of commentary here. TDavid spent a great deal of time gathering comments from a number of bloggers in a post for his Make You Go Hmm blog. Having spent far too much time reading through many of these posts, the only real sense I can make of all of this is that Google now owns a lightweight, web-based word processor and I hope they use it make Gmail and their other service better. I think that's the play because no business in its right mind will trust an online repository with confidential or proprietary information. It's just as simple as that.

UPDATE (03/13): Forbes.com quotes a Goldman Sachs "directionally negative" memo on Microsoft as saying:

"We disagree with Microsoft's approach of ignoring the consumer market for a hosted solution and leaving the door wide open for Google to come in and establish a presence in the consumer or potentially the small business market," the analyst wrote in a recent note.

"In isolation, a hosted word processor may not be a big draw, but as part of a hosted personal productivity suite it takes on greater strategic significance," he noted. "Maybe Microsoft is preparing to respond, but it seems odd to us to not guard against a very obvious move by Google. How long before we see Google doing a hosted spreadsheet as well?"

OK... I can agree with that concern although based on what I've read, the consumer sales of Office as a whole or Word as a standalone are a small piece of the action (one report had it at 6%). I'm less clear on how Microsoft is supposed to have guarded itself against this move by Google. Outbid them? Buy up every Web 2.0 Word wannabe? Launch their own first? That aside, you have to love a phrase like "directionally negative". 

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