Is Microsoft Docs really a 'Google Docs killer' and four other questions (and answers)

Is Microsoft Docs really a 'Google Docs killer' and four other questions (and answers)

Summary: Is Microsoft Docs really, as some are suggesting, a Google Docs killer? Here are five questions I asked Microsoft about today's announcement about its latest partnership with Facebook, and five answers I received via a corporate spokesperson.


Microsoft unveiled today a beta version of Microsoft Docs, its Office Web Apps technology tailored for the Facebook platform at the Facebook f8 conference on April 21. The announcement spurred a lot of questions -- by me and others. Here are five questions I asked Microsoft about today's announcement, and five answers I received via a corporate spokesperson.

Q: I see folks calling this a 'Google Docs killer.' To me, this is not that at all. Microsoft’s position?

A: The name expresses the value of the service – the ability for individuals to discover, create and share Microsoft Office “documents” (e.g. “docs”) that they’re already familiar with on Facebook. It’s Docs…for Facebook. Using Office, a Facebook user can easily create, view and share documents with friends and family regardless of whether they have the Office desktop software loaded on their machine.  Those documents will always have the polish and finish of Office as they move easily from the cloud to the desktop to a mobile device and back. No one else provides this type of seamless experience across the PC, mobile phone and browser.

Q: Will MS do similar Office Web Apps spinoffs for other social networks besides Facebook? If so, which ones and when? (LinkedIn? MySpace, Windows Live, etc.)

A: Users have asked Microsoft to make it easier to share Office docs with their social networks. The announcement of the technical preview of the Office Web Apps last September on Windows Live was the company’s first step in this regard – bringing document sharing to Messenger and other social networks that work with Windows Live. As for Docs, we are focused on Facebook and have no current plans to bring this work to other social networks.

Q: Will Facebook expose the contents of the docs on to advertisers? What safeguards are/will be in place?

A: Docs utilizes the very same permissioning and sharing mechanisms that Facebook users have grown to know and expect. The same settings that have made the Facebook photos app the most popular in the world will enable users to control how their documents are shared. Furthermore, these same settings dictate not only who can view documents, but who can edit them. only stores an individual’s Facebook ID.  It caches for 24 hours your friends’ list and friends’ names; we do this to enhance the service’s performance and to personalize your  experience. An individual can choose to opt-out of this feature by clicking “No Thanks” on the blue notification bar at the top of or under her/his Facebook Privacy Settings.

Q: Couldn’t you share Office Web Apps docs with others without making use of the Facebook platform/elements?

A: Yes. The Office Web Apps are online companions to the desktop versions of Word, PowerPoint and Excel desktop apps, enabling individuals to view, edit and share their Office documents from virtually anywhere. They extend the familiar Office experience to the cloud. Any user with Office installed can choose to either view or edit a document on their PC or Mac. If they edit, they can save back to to update the file in the cloud. However, what makes the Office Web Apps so important to the service is that they allow us to provide access to Office capabilities to individuals without Microsoft Office installed on their desktop. An individual without a client version of Office installed on her/his PC, can simply create and edit documents online, using the Office Web Apps. Individuals with Office installed on their PCs benefit from knowing they can share with others who don’t have Office installed.

Integrating with Facebook will introduce Office to many people who may not be familiar with it.  This will drive more interest in Office software.  The power of Office 2010 is the unique ability for individuals to seamlessly access a document from anywhere at any time – whether in the cloud, on their computer, or from their mobile device.  That experience is now being extended to Facebook.

Q: Can you share Word, Excel, PowerPoint and OneNote docs with Microsoft Docs?

A: Yes. Docs utilizes Microsoft Office 2010 “Web Apps” (Word, PPT, Excel). Office 2010 enables editing from both the web AND from PC/Mac versions of Office on someone’s local machine, whichever the user prefers. Office 2010 and 2007 work with Office Web Apps. Users of Office 2003 and Office XP can download a free Compatibility Pack to work with documents saved by the Web Apps.

Other random "fun facts": The codename for Microsoft Docs is "Felix." (Yes, for Felix the Cat.) And Microsoft Chief Software Architect Ray Ozzie is considered a Microsoft Docs team member.

What else do you want to know about Microsoft Docs?

Topics: Microsoft, Collaboration, Google, Software, Social Enterprise


Mary Jo has covered the tech industry for 30 years for a variety of publications and Web sites, and is a frequent guest on radio, TV and podcasts, speaking about all things Microsoft-related. She is the author of Microsoft 2.0: How Microsoft plans to stay relevant in the post-Gates era (John Wiley & Sons, 2008).

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  • Questions...

    In question 4, you mentioned OneNote, but it's not part of the web app suite. Any news on a possible web app version of OneNote and/or Visio? Would be cool to have that functionality in addition to Word, Excel, & PPT.
    • There is a OneNote Web App

      You are incorrect, OneNote Web App is part of the Office Web App suite which shipped with OFfice 2010.

      According to another ZDNet article, the consumer version of the Office Web Apps will have OneNote as well when it moves out of beta later this year.
  • Microsoft Docs is an HTML5 - Open Web Killer

    Funny how so many are focused elsewhere. A few weeks
    ago there was a BNet article titled, "HTML 5: Google,
    Microsoft, Apple, and Adobe Fight to Rule the Web"
    ( Silverlight was mentioned, but
    only as an alternative to Flash. Surprisingly,
    Microsoft was painted as HTML5 friendly.

    The more important point was overlooked; the
    Silverlight plug-in was also designed as an interactive
    and collaborative editing container for Office Open XML
    (OOXML) documents.

    This Silverlight/OOXML runtime is the driver behind
    today's announcement. Of
    course this is a problem for Google Docs and the entire
    platform of Google Apps and services. But it's also a
    challenge to the language of the Open Web.

    As a document format, OOXML is custom designed to meet
    the needs of MSOffice (2003, 2007, 2010) anchored
    productivity environments. Microsoft is noticeably
    championing one aspect of OOXML that stands as an
    impossible barrier to all other productivity
    applications and services; <i>full lifecycle
    compatibility</i>. Meaning, these are <i>in-
    process</i> documents, even when collaboratively edited
    outside the MSOffice productivity environment.

    The importance of lifecycle compatibility can't be
    overstated. In-process and compound documents are
    filled embedded complexities provisioned through
    platform specific technologies. Think of the legacy
    inter-app messaging, connectivity and exchange stuff
    like DDE, OLE, ODBC, MAPI, COM, and DCOM. Then there
    are embedded entanglements provisioned through scripts,
    macros, app-on, security settings and application
    specific settings.

    Convert an MSOffice productivity/workgroup document,
    and invariably you will break both the fidelity and the
    embedded business-process provisions. While fidelity
    can be fixed, breaking an embedded business process is
    a game ender.

    The iron grip Microsoft has on the enterprise is it's
    lock on these <i>in-process</i> documents and the
    desktop productivity environments they fuel.

    With this release, Microsoft is signaling to
    the world that they are ready to transition from
    dominance of the desktop productivity environment to an
    emerging, and Web centered, Business Productivity
    Platform. The key to this great transition, which will
    involve millions of legacy business systems, is the
    easy and non disruptive <i>full lifecycle
    compatible</i> transitioning of <in-process</i>
    productivity documents.

    This is a platform war. Microsoft may have lost (for
    the moment) the smartphone "mobility" platform. I
    think they also lost both the Web 1.0 and 2.0
    generations of the Internet as the platform of
    platforms. I don't think however that Microsoft will
    lose the battle for the Web as a productivity platform.
    They are in position to lock out Google, Apple and

    It's interesting that they co-opted Facebook, which
    itself is making a play at becoming a social network
    platform. Whatever Facebook thought they could skim
    off of business facing enterprises will remain under
    Microsoft's control. Since Microsoft owns the runtime,
    the format, the editor and collaboration cycles, and,
    the <i>in-process</i> content; Facebook could easily be
    reduced to status as a cheap and easy host of Microsoft
    business and consumer information systems.

    There is a reason why Google paid $25M for an MSOffice
    plug-in (DocVerse). They need to get inside the
    MSOffice desktop productivity environment before
    Microsoft can hit critical mass with the great

    I'm still betting on Google and an Open Web
    Productivity Platform. But only because Google's
    business model makes money off of pushing the Open Web.
    Tons of money.

    Meanwhile, Microsoft is unable to break away from their
    traditional business model of selling applications and
    services. To stay in business, they have to slow down
    the Open Web - and with it the unstoppable forces of
    open source and open opportunity.

    Their situation reminds me of the famous comment made
    by Netscape's CEO, James Love Barksdale, when
    confronted with the problem that Microsoft was giving
    away IE. "If Evian can bottle and sell water, I can
    sell a browser".

    Today the tables are turned. Sure, Microsoft's looks like a Google Apps killer. But Apps is
    not the Google ace. Google's holding an incredible ace
    in the hole; the fact that their extremely profitable
    business model is synergistic with the future of the
    Open Web.

    • thoughts

      "Surprisingly, Microsoft was painted as HTML5

      IE9 is definitely putting a lot of HTML 5 and
      other next-gen technologies in it.

      In addition, Microsoft is not only a member of
      the W3C, but is actually contributing quite a
      bit to it, in particular a large number of test
      cases that are designed to test the
      compatibility of browsers against various parts
      of the standards.

      This tells me that Microsoft is pushing hard to
      comply with standards. And I'm not just seeing
      a catch-up move here, I'm seeing a "we want to
      be [i]better[/i] at this than the others" move.

      "This is a platform war."

      Indeed, and I agree. There's a lot more at play
      here than a few consumer-facing applications.

      I think one thing that people underestimate is
      how much this is about a platform, not just a
      collection of products.

      "But only because Google's business model makes
      money off of pushing the Open Web. Tons of

      I'd disagree. Their business model makes tons
      of money from advertising on a search engine
      built around a secret formula. The "open web"
      is just a side project that they can use to
      pull in more advertising dollars.
      • Time to re-think

        Microsoft's support for advancing HTML
        technologies is tentative at best. They have a
        long history of foot dragging and incomplete

        Keep in mind that HTML5 is representative of
        many advancing <i>HTML</i> technologies that
        include HTML5, CSS3, SVG/Canvas, and
        JavaScript. If, as it appears, Microsoft
        implements parts of HTML5, and some of CSS 2.1,
        and none of SVG/Canvas, and older JavaScript;
        the impact is perhaps far worse than if they
        were zero compliant.

        Besides, the issue here isn't whether or not IE
        conditionally supports aspects of HTML5. It's
        whether or not the Microsoft productivity
        environment supports and faithfully implements
        a range of Open Web technologies HTML5 systems
        depend on.

        Will MSOffice 2010 support HTML5? How about
        the 2010 server side applications services?
        Like the BPOS core of Exchange, SharePoint, and
        SQL Server?

        For sure the 2010 generation of productivity
        apps and services will support
        Silverlight/OOXML/WPF technologies. That's
        where the <i>rich client</i> - <i>rich
        server</i> marketecture comes in.

        As far as membership in the W3C goes; keep in
        mind that in the years between 1998 and 2002,
        the W3C pretty much dropped HTML technologies
        in favor of XML, RDF and the vision of a
        Semantic Web future. In response to the W3C's
        abandonment of HTML technologies, the WHATWG -
        HTML5 effort was initiated by browser
        providers; Mozilla, Opera and Apple.

        It wasn't until <a
        effort">March of 2007</a>, that the W3C finally
        recognized the need to back track and support

        As for Microsoft's well known foot dragging in
        open standards consortia efforts,one has to
        look no further than ECMAScript (otherwise
        known as JavaScript). Here's <a
        microsoft-the-good-guys">a summary</a> of
        Brendan Eich's (of Mozilla) open letter to
        Chris Wilson (of Microsoft) that includes this
        money shot:

        <blockquote>Indeed Microsoft does not desire
        serious change to ES3, and we heard this inside
        TG1 in April. The words were (from my notes)
        more like this: "Microsoft does not think the
        web needs to change much". Except, of course,
        via Silverlight and WPF, which if not matched
        by evolution of the open web standards, will
        spread far and wide on the Web, as Flash
        already has. And that change to the Web is
        apparently just fine and dandy according to

        One of the key reasons i moved to WebKit a few
        years ago was that Apple refused to be
        hamstrung by the slow paced, foot dragging
        corporatist opposing the advance of HTML Open
        Web technologies at the W3C consortia. The
        WebKit team had this interesting methodology of
        creating new enhancements to HTML+, and
        submitting the innovations back to the W3C as
        <i>proposals</i>. Then they went straight
        forward with enhanced distributions.

        WebKit has become a model of how Open Source
        efforts can outrun the foot dragging
        corporatist who manage and control the rickety
        empire of open standards consortia. Google has
        taken the WebKit torch, and is further pushing
        the Open Web envelope with technologies like
        XMPP, OT, Native Client, V8, and Web Sockets.

        Honestly, i don't see any evidence of Microsoft
        pushing hard for Open Web technologies. Don't
        listen to what they say. Watch what they do!

        The Google <i>secret formula</i> only works if
        the Web is Open. How well do you think Google
        Search will work if a critical mass of Web
        content, (and perhaps more importantly,
        business productivity content), is locked in a
        Silverlight/OOXML container? Where's the
        advertising escalator in that?

        Google's business model is simple; the more
        people use the Open Web, the more money they
        can make.

        If content and information systems are siloed
        by proprietary stacks of technologies, apps and
        services, Google gets locked out. No access =
        no ad revenues.

        Hope this helps,
        • thoughts

          "Keep in mind that HTML5 is representative of
          many advancing HTML technologies that
          include HTML5, CSS3, SVG/Canvas, and

          Actually, HTML and SVG are [i]XML[/i]
          technologies, and CSS and JavaScript have their
          own syntax. But that's a minor detail.

          "L5, CSS3, SVG/Canvas, and
          JavaScript. If, as it appears, Microsoft
          implements parts of HTML5, and some of CSS 2.1,
          and none of SVG/Canvas, and older JavaScript;
          the impact is perhaps far worse than if they
          were zero compliant."

          Microsoft has clearly advertised SVG support
          for the upcoming IE9 in their blog, so I take
          this statement as speculative and ill-informed.

          "Besides, the issue here isn't whether or not
          IE conditionally supports aspects of HTML5."

          If it wasn't the issue, why did you bring it

          No, it is an issue, because you wish to
          continue believing that Microsoft will continue
          their past behavior and cannot possibly create
          a browser capable of good conformance to

          "It's whether or not the Microsoft productivity
          environment supports and faithfully implements
          a range of Open Web technologies HTML5 systems
          depend on."

          There's that Open Web thing again. Is this
          something specific that can be a real concern -
          or is it just a vague statement, for you to
          mold in such a way that Microsoft always
          appears on the wrong side?

          "Will MSOffice 2010 support HTML5?"

          Will support HTML5?

          I do not know the answer to either question -
          but I do know that HTML is a format generally
          used in browsers, not in word processors.

          "WebKit has become a model of how Open Source
          efforts can outrun the foot dragging
          corporatist who manage and control the rickety
          empire of open standards consortia."

          I would agree that the W3C has been pretty
          slow. I wouldn't really blame Microsoft for
          that, though - I remember clearly that one of
          the first comments that the CSS guys wrote when
          they started a blog about it was that they were
          volunteers, with families, and that's why
          things seemed too slow.

          The problem with volunteers in our various
          organizations has always been the same: They're
          sprinters, not marathon runners. They stay only
          as long as they have interest in it.

          Full time staff are much more willing to run
          marathons, especially if it's something they're
          required to do.

          I'm glad, though, that somebody got the W3C
          moving again. I do hope that standards will go
          on a faster track now.
  • No support for DOC format

    Most of my documents are in .DOC format and while I may be creating new documents in DOCX or ODT, I won't bother converting older ones into newer formats even if there are batch conversation tools available because converting disturbs the layout and formatting of most documents. And Office Web Apps/Microsoft Docs has no support for .DOC and .XLS format which makes it useless to me.
    • I agree, but I will try....

      I agree with you on the *.doc file format, but I
      will try it out nevertheless. It looks promising.
  • Why do I want to trust Facebook?

    I think this is dumb. Where is the need to share word docs with facebook users? I can see using Google Docs and the other online office sites.

    People who can't afford or don't need office I get that. I don't get Facebook Docs. I never once had any one ask me to look at a text doc and edit it while on Facebook.

    Then take a look at Facebook privacy they change that like a person changing their underwear so Why would I want to trust Facebook?
    • Agree

      Facebook is a ridiculous platform for this application. When has Facebook ever meant business? Read the Facebook terms for Sharing & Content, it's totally non-sense!

      # Sharing Your Content and Information

      You own all of the content and information you post on Facebook, and you can control how it is shared through your privacy and application settings. LOL. In addition:

      1. For content that is covered by intellectual property rights, like photos and videos ("IP content"), you specifically give us the following permission, subject to your privacy and application settings: you grant us a non-exclusive, transferable, sub-licensable, royalty-free, worldwide license to use any IP content that you post on or in connection with Facebook ("IP License"). This IP License ends when you delete your IP content or your account unless your content has been shared with others, and they have not deleted it. LOL
      2. When you delete IP content, it is deleted in a manner similar to emptying the recycle bin on a computer. However, you understand that removed content may persist in backup copies for a reasonable period of time (but will not be available to others). LOL
      3. When you add an application and use Platform, your content and information is shared with the application. We require applications to respect your privacy settings, but your agreement with that application will control how the application can use the content and information you share. (To learn more about Platform, read our About Platform page.) LOL
      4. When you publish content or information using the "everyone" setting, it means that everyone, including people off of Facebook, will have access to that information and we may not have control over what they do with it. LOL
      5. We always appreciate your feedback or other suggestions about Facebook, but you understand that we may use them without any obligation to compensate you for them (just as you have no obligation to offer them). LOL
  • We find that MS is "All In" in the cloud..all server apps, now this.....

    They will own this space too eventually.

    The best apps on your PC will be the best apps in the cloud.

    Game over, Google. <br>

    So sorry. <br>
  • RE: Is Microsoft Docs really a 'Google Docs killer' and four other questions (and answers)

    Does Google Docs really need killing?


    Looks Confused
  • What is with this overly used term "killer"?

    Whats wrong with plain old fashion and healthy competition?

    Pagan jim
    James Quinn
    • Yes, look how many MS Office "killers" there have been. And Google Apps...

      doesn't really need "a killin'".

      It's not really used that much in the grand scheme.

      In any case, MS has all of it's server products available in the cloud now, so whichever way you want it."

      Maybe Apple should put itunes in the cloud so they don't have to owe their success to "itunes for Windows" any longer.
      See, that massive Windows infrastructure, legal, illegal, made Apple and Google rich, along with your stock being worthwhile, so you should really be a fan of MS.

      later daddio
      • Never said that when MS serves me I won't use it's

        products. I owned an XBox and currently own an XBox 360. I've never
        found much use for many of their other products however. It's just the
        way I'm wired I suppose and "IF" I did not have an alternative or in the
        case of Open Source and linux a couple alternatives I might be using
        more MS I've just found that the alternative called Apple has been a
        better fit for me. It's that simple.

        Pagan jim
        James Quinn
        • Well for me.....

          I simply can't find any use for Apple products. I simply hate being tethered to a device that doesn't allow me to choose my own service and content and beyond that I've yet to see any use for any Apple product in the business space, which is where my career, a very large part of my life, exists.

          If they ever come up with something that will give me the same ease of use and flexibility and apps as Windows 7, for example, I would take a look.
          • Your "flexibility" translates into my "complication"

            Now don't get me wrong I can use Windows heck I've used Windows
            since before 3.1. That said I found that what I had to do in Windows I
            could easily do faster in Mac OS. Where one was work and a struggle
            the other was cake. My martial arts instructor use to say "When a
            punch lands... Don't be there" I look at my work and my life very
            much in that way. Now maybe you do have a job where you are
            actually "required" to use Windows and such but to me when ever a
            job like that comes my way I step aside and let it pass... The punch
            does not find me. The day I take a job where I actually NEED a BB
            strapped to my side and a Windows laptop to do my job somebody
            PLEASE SHOOT ME!!!! Not saying such jobs do not exist I'm sure they
            do but I've never needed to take one and I know I would not be happy
            in one. I've always been able to use OSX and Apple products to do my

            Pagan jim
            James Quinn
          • No problem Dude. Some people only need a hammer......

            for all the work they'll ever do around their home and in their job and life. They only need the simple solution to very simple problems because they lead a simple life and there is nothing wrong with that. It does a limited number of things but does them well and is there ready to go any time. Cool.
            Apple makes a really nicely done, well balanced hammer.

            But in my career I simply need a nail gun. I could never do the work I need with only a hammer. It would be like trying to nail down plywood on a 300,000 sq. foot roof by yourself with only a hammer. You may have to turn it down, in fact realistically speaking you would. Where Apple is simple, it is also lacking in feature set.

            But the really sweet thing is that Windows comes with both. A hammer and a nail gun and also a full set of tools, in case you ever aspire to do more than hammer for a living.

            I'm not sure what a "BB" strapped to your side is, or what is relevant about a windows laptop to do a job?
            And where did your attitude from your first reply to thise one where you claim you want "Killed" if you ever had to use a Windows laptop? I'm not sure why you were laptop specific and I"m not even sure what a bb is?

            I run a business that is more fullfilling that I could say. Every one of these sites, and much of it was my idea, are powered by Microsoft Server 2003 mainly, a few windows server 2008 machines for terminal services, the absolute best terminal server available on the planet today and mostly XP/vista/Win7 clients.
            The networks are all switched of course with 3 T1 internet, fiber backbone of course and Gigabit to all clients. These are very fast and very very reliable networks. They never go down and the redundancy has never even been tested in production.
            I work with Admins and in a sense, for them, but they normally accept my proposals for IT or non IT related projects which I'm involved in as well.

            Finally, I'd love to hear what you can do easily faster with OS X than Windows. I'm going to call you on that one, cause I've used both to be certain and I don't know of anything it does more easily. I mean Apple's hammer is, afterall, a hammer. The Apple logo on it simply does not make it nail more easily than the hammer that comes with Windows, but I'm ready to hear about it.....
  • RE: Is Microsoft Docs really a 'Google Docs killer' and four other questions (and answers)

    MS Office Web Apps beats Google Docs hands down; it's in a different league. The integration with Facebook is a continuation of that, and an ingenious move by MS.

    Have you even tried MS Office Web Apps yet? Try it, then you'll know what a treat Facebook users are in for. :)
    Tim Acheson
  • Obviously......Not a killer, only an enhancement/feature

    This is not a Google Docs killer. It looks like more of a "feature" for facebook users (which i refuse to use). Also, web apps cannot replace the local software installation due to the fact that some devices cannot communicate over the web and function properly (i.e. scanners, printers, copiers, etc...). Features on these devices only can extend so far before failing. Web apps are an option to local applications and cannot even come close to replacing them in features and robustness. Besides, what happens when the Internet goes down and you need a document created, printed and viewed by executives in your company before the Internet comes up? Won't happen with web apps, huh!