The problem with punditry re: Google Apps vs. Office

The only thing less surprising than Google announcement of Google Apps Premier Edition Wednesday evening and the ensuing white noise it has precipitated was the inevitability of some seriously wrong-headed punditry from the usual suspects. Microsoft-bashing is all sorts of fun – it must be given the number of folks engaged in the game – and no one I know of has been a more vocal ind incessant critic of the company than Steven J.

The only thing less surprising than Google announcement of Google Apps Premier Edition Wednesday evening and the ensuing white noise it has precipitated was the inevitability of some seriously wrong-headed punditry from the usual suspects. Microsoft-bashing is all sorts of fun – it must be given the number of folks engaged in the game – and no one I know of has been a more vocal ind incessant critic of the company than Steven J. Vaughn-Nichols who writes the Enterprise Apps column for eWEEK.

In his latest missive, SJVN (yes, I believe he has earned acronymization) declares that Google has taken the gloves off and is coming after Microsoft's Office franchise with their new offering. Gee! D'ya think? Amidst a fairly typical amount of self-congratulatory slapping of his own back for having been so prescient as to have sen this coming, he makes the following concluding statement:

If Google Apps were coming out at another time, I'd think the best it could do would be to chip away at Office. There are just too many users who know Office and nothing but Office. However, Microsoft is helping out Google Apps, OpenOffice and all the other Microsoft Office alternatives with Office 2007's new interface.

Office 2007, and its new Ribbon interface, is going to be much, much harder to pick up for Microsoft Office users than either Google Apps or OpenOffice. The knee-jerk argument for Microsoft Office has always been, "It's what the users already know."

Well, now they don't. So if I were a CIO, or just the guy who knows computers in a five-person office, even if I couldn't imagine using Linux or Mac OS, I can certainly see giving Google Apps a try. It's cheap, it's easy and it's good. Microsoft is finally in a fight for the office application market.

Heck, who knows. Anyone want to bet me that Google Apps will own the same share of the office suite market next year at this time that Firefox now owns of the Web browser market? According to Net Applications, the Web-site traffic analysis company, that was 13.7 percent in January 2007. Unlikely? Yes. Impossible ... I don't think so.

The big flaw – not the only one mind you, just the enormous one staring anyone who thinks this through for a few minutes – in SJVN's argument is the underlying assumption that anyone actually needs to do anything. Where is the inevitable drive to try Google Apps just because Office 2007 has been released? Even a casual student of recent software history can tell you that the "rush to upgrade reflex" has been disappearing for a long time now. The adoption of Office XP (AKA Office 2000 2002) from Office 97 2000 was not exactly barn burning. The cycle for Office XP to Office 2003 was even more glacial.

UPDATE: Thanks to reader DByrne for correcting my Office version timeline. As he points out in Talkback, Office 2000 was the last version that did not require activation and many small businesses, faced with the prospect of having to buy a license for every PC, simply stopped upgrading to newer versions. The paragraph above has been corrected accordingly.

So why would anyone who claims to be a veteran observer of the industry expect that the introduction of YANOS (Yet Another Office Solution) would change that behavior? The simple fact of the matter is that most people who haven't found a compelling reason to switch from Office XP to Office 2003 or those who feel pretty satisfied with what Office 2003 (or OpenOffice or StarOffice) provides aren't necessarily going to switch to anything. It's not like there is a huge base of people who don't already have some sort of Office solution installed already.

The Firefox canard is a so off-base that I'm completely comfortable taking SJVN's bet. It's a canard because he's comparing... oh I might as well say it... apples to oranges. The reason Firefox has enjoyed a steady growth in adoption is because so many people became weary of the limitations and vulnerabilities in Internet Explorer 6 and valued the enhancements Firefox offers like tabbed browsing and easy extensibility. Microsoft has delivered – late in the game and with varying degrees of success – a response with Internet Explorer 7 which will ultimately replace IE6 but probably not sway too many people to switch back from Firefox. Where is the parallel in discussing Office solutions? I don't see it.

And finally there's the issue of how comfortable (or not) the vast majority of people are with relying on a purely online solution for core tasks like word processing, spreadsheets, and calendaring. Webmail like Gmail is accepted because it can be pulled to the desktop and read offline in a client like Thunderbird or Outlook. I don't know too many businesses that are ready to risk being able to complete a critical sales forecast or proposal with an online tool that becomes inaccessible due to a network glitch when a deadline is rapidly approaching (or they're on a plane). And of course the whole confidential/proprietary issue surrounding company and customer information looms as well.

Sorry SJVN – I'm not convinced. And I'll take your bet that this time next year, Google Apps Premier Edition will not have anything close to 13.7% market share. I'll put up a sack of freshly roasted New Mexico green chile as my ante. What are you offering?

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