When Microsoft announced this week that its next version of Office will include web apps there was no real surprise. But it reminded me of Steven Wright on Dr. Katz when he acknowledged that he usually had four or five cups of coffee before his first cup of coffee. Knowledge workers have started drinking at the web apps cafe, but are just getting warmed up for the real thing. It’s when Microsoft’s brew is ready that it starts to count.
Microsoft has been sloth like to move its apps to the web, but it is coming at it from a position of strength. Zoho has a great buzz and feels like it adds an app a week while for Google it’s an all or nothing bid focused on alternatives to desktop productivity from Office. Microsoft’s taking on wikis and other collaborative needs, blending the experience in the tools. Want collaborative authoring? They have it (by the way, so will Adobe soon). Want a web-based editor? Got it. Want the web-based editor to work with your peers that have the full desktop while you collaborate on a contract or meeting notes? Got it. But bringing it all together without being overly complex or undercutting Microsoft’s Office suite margins takes time.
Microsoft is trying to evolve to keep its dominance in desktop productivity and maintain relevance. Today Microsoft continues to reign supreme in the desktop productivity tools space. The question is whether or not knowledge workers will be satisfied by lighter weight versions of their desktop tools, as Microsoft will be offering only scaled back web versions of its Office programs. Forrester’s data shows the uptake of web productivity apps in the enterprise to be miniscule even if interest is expressed. That’s because no one’s really satisfied with lighter weight versions. If they were a viable alternative to Office, we’d have seen much greater adoption of Google and others. And for enterprises believing they will be able to reduce licensing costs with web-based Office apps, they will likely be disappointed as availability will be through existing volume licensing agreements. Deployment costs should go down, however, and these are material.
So far, time seems to be on Microsoft’s side. Because even though web-based productivity tools exist, no one has done much more yet than mimic Microsoft’s capabilities. And no one has successfully figured out an efficient content collaboration strategy that engages knowledge workers the way they want to work – at the office, on the go, on the web, offline, authenticated or not, or some combination of these depending on a person’s role, location, personal preferences – or what day of the week it is. Choice will reign supreme as the knowledge worker demographic shifts and expectations increase on being able to transition seamlessly between devices and desktops, between wikis and Word. Microsoft recognizes this shift and can leverage its familiar apps to address this gap. But it’s still hurry up and wait for now.