Microsoft finally unveils its answer to Google Docs

Microsoft finally unveils its answer to Google Docs

Summary: After months of speculation about what it would do to stave off potential encroachments on its Office turf by Google Docs & Spreadsheets, Microsoft has spelled out its strategy: Office Live Workspace.


After months of speculation about what it would do to stave off potential encroachments on its Office turf by Google Docs & Spreadsheets, Microsoft has spelled out its strategy: Office Live Workspace.

Microsoft unveils its answer to Google DocsOffice Live Workspace is, in Microsoft's words, "a new web-based feature of Microsoft Office which lets people access their documents online and share their work with others." It's aimed at consumers and small-business users, not corporations who are interested in being able to access their documents anywhere -- from any computer and any browser. In other words, Microsoft isn't playing up Office Live Workspace as a head-to-head competitor with Google Apps Premier Edition (GAPE). Microsoft is positioning its Microsoft-hosted SharePoint, Exchange and Office Communications Services (which it has now rebranded with as its family of "Office Online" services) as its GAPE competitors.

Microsoft is taking sign-ups from those interested in beta testing the English-language version of Office Live Workspace starting October 1. The actual invitation-only beta isn't likely to launch for another month, according to Rajesh Jha, Corporate Vice President, Microsoft Office Live. The beta and the final versions of the service (at least for saving/accessing up to 1,000 documents) will be free, the Softies said. No word on how much, if anything, Microsoft plans to charge once users have more than 1,000 Word, Excel and PowerPoint files they want to store online.

Office Live Workspace is not a hosted version of Microsoft Office. Instead, it is -- like the rest of the Office Live family -- an extension to the client-based version of desktop productivity software. Interestingly, Office Live Workspace isn't just an extension to Microsoft Office 2007, but also third-party-developed office programs like OpenOffice, StarOffice and more, as well as Office XP, according to Jha. However, as you might expect, Office 2007 will work best with the new Live Workspace feature (other third-party and older Microsoft software won't "light up" the same way, Jha said).

(Microsoft officials told me about Office Live Workspace under embargo late last week, but didn't have any screen shots or sample version to show. So I am explaining all this based on a 30-minute phone conversation with Jha.)

Office Live Workspace is a password-protected SharePoint workspace, hosted by Microsoft. It's a place users can store and access documents for "work, school and home," Microsoft explained. Users will be able to e-mail drafts of these Web-based documents to multiple people. Those without a desktop version of productivity software handy will still be able to view and comment on stored documents via a browser.

Microsoft is positioning Groove (finally -- a real, understandable use for the technology developed by Chief Software Architect Ray Ozzie's former company and aquired by Microsoft a couple years ago!) as the way that users will be able to access documents in their workspaces when they are off-line, Jha said.

"Groove will be the way you take any Workspace offline," Jha said.

Microsoft is planning to rely on the same back-end infrastructure for Office Live Workspace as it does for Windows Live. Microsoft plans to share the same contact lists and calendar entries between Windows Live and Office Live Workspace, Jha said. And Tahiti -- a k a Microsoft Shared View, a real-time collaboration service which Microsoft began beta testing earlier this ear -- also will be integrated, over time, with Office Live Workspace, Jha said.

Jha deflected questions about when Microsoft plans to field the final release of Office Live Workspace and/or the Groove component of it. How and when, exactly, will Microsoft add support for third-party desktop offerings? Not sure. And what about users who don't want the desktop office-product anchor around their necks at all -- those who want to create documents on the Web, not on their PCs? Microsoft seems to have decided to ignore that segment all together....

Right now, there are lots more questions than answers about Microsoft's planned Google Docs competitor. But at least Microsoft has acknowledged it has an alternative in the wings for the home/small-business set who want this kind of functionality.

From what little information is known so far, what do you think? Is Office Live Workspace a real competitor to Google Docs? If not, what's missing?

Topics: Microsoft, Collaboration, Google, Software


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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  • Interesting...

    Just signed up for the Beta and can't wait.
  • pointless?

    hmmm... what's the point of having a web-based office suite, if still i've to install the desktop version? and if it's not installed why i have to be restricted to a read-only version of the document?

    If i have the desktop version i'll not be bothered to connect to internet, log in, and start to work; i will simply double click on the icon on my desktop.

    this sort of 'features' reminds me one sentence of bofh: "when non it people makes it decisions"
    • Think past your bias

      Scenario 1:

      Working at the office, you create an Excel spreadsheet and save it to your Office Online site...all within Excel as naturally as you would to your hard drive. You hop on the train home and remember a change you wanted to access the file from your Windows Mobile smartphone and add the formula change. Once you get home you fire up your home desktop and open the file, that's out in the cloud, and work on it including the change you made on the train (that was version-ed by the case you need to back out of it).

      Scenario 2:

      You are a small company (<20 employees) and most are traveling sales guys spread out over the US. The product you sell is fairly complex and you use PowerPoint for presentations to customers. All of your sales people have Office 2007 and access to the central PowerPoint repository which is accessible from OfficeLive within PowerPoint itself. The head marketing guy creates a new presentation incorporating the latest updates to your product line. When each sales guy logs in online, their Groove space is automatically updated with the latest presnetation...they need to do when they are at the next customer, they have the latest and greatest info.

      Just 2 scenarios but there are hundreds...think past your Microsoft bias and you can see the endless possibilities that this will bring business, small and lartge...
      • That's some good thinking

        ... right there! Then again, you're just thinking, right? ;)
        Justin Carmichael
      • it's true, but...

        scenario 1: When i'm in the way home... i'm in the way home, maximum i write down a TODO in my Tungsten or in my E750 for tomorrow (or monday) morning as: "update excel file with ..."

        scenario 2: i think there are better and specific tools for online content... yes, maybe they are not easy as powerpoint (btw office) but usually performace is not easy.
        • two steps or one?

          ummm why in the world would you go to the trouble to write a TODO note to your self when you could just open it up and make the change? Each to their own I guess.
          • Because he's driving

            And drive time ain't no time to be working on no steenkin' spreadsheet. It's bad enough that he's dictating notes.
            Jambalaya Breath
          • Well, there's always HOME

            If you drive, then I think that it's pretty clear that the portion of the OP reply that said "you're on the TRAIN."

            Come on people. It's not too hard to envision that the OP didn't intend for you to work on a spreadsheet while driving.

            How about jump to the end of the scenario, where the person is at home, sitting at their home work station, and opens the document.
          • Edit

            Left a bit out -

            "If you drive, then I think that it's pretty clear that the portion of the OP reply that said "you're on the TRAIN." "

            Should have said this:

            "If you drive, then I think that it's pretty clear that the portion of the OP reply that said "you're on the TRAIN" is not intended for you."

            Sorry about that. Fingers got ahead of brain. Mornings suck. :)
        • When I'm on the way home

          I'm not doing work. That's my time and I'm not being paid for it so no work gets done.
      • Think past assuming bias in others

        I'm not sure the scenarios are much different from using web storage with any application. What if you want the advantages, but don't use MSOffice because it does not perform well for your requirements (our law firm, many others, and DOJ still use WordPerfect Office because of significant advantages of WP and Quattro Pro over Word and Excel for our requirements)?

        From our perspective, by requiring users to have MSOffice installed to work on documents, MS is just leveraging the new product to sell the existing one. Now if MS adopted a truly open document format .....
      • A better scenario would be...

        Just create it in Google docs. Then you can edit it anywhere, and you don't need
        office at all. You can even edit from a platform other than windows. (That's just in
        case you wake up and realize you have been tied to windows all these years, and it's
        really not a very good OS after all.)
        • That certainly works

          I've been keeping a lot of my personal spreadsheets, etc, on Google docs for the last couple of months, so they're available anywhere anytime, the latest version. Very convenient.

          Have been running a nationwide community of interest within a SharePoint application. We've only been on for a few months, but I have long been aware of other user communities up in arms over the slow, error-prone service. It's the only SharePoint I've experienced, so it could be the implementation, but this group is backed by some major megabucks - don't see why they and MS can't get it right.

          I'm thinking of throwing in the towel. Discussion with Google later this week to start tradeoff analysis whether to move to Google docs. We'll see...
        • Google docs

          Yeah, that's a great idea. You may as well go ahead and post all of your confidential information straight to the NSA homepage. That's where it will end up anyway.

          Not saying MS is any better, but you really think your info is safe with Google, the company willing to sell your data to the highest bidder??
          • Google will be extremely vigilant in protecting your data from the US

            government. Remember, Google was the only one to stand up to the DOG when they wanted all of your search queries. And, the only thing that Google has is trust, without that, they could lose all of their business overnight. It only takes about 2 seconds to switch search providers.

            Don't forget that the government can also break the door down to your house and take your computer.
          • I know they can

            <i>Don't forget that the government can also break the door down to your house and take your computer.</i>

            I don't like them either.

      • Think past your bias...

        it's obvious you are the one who is biased. There was not bias at all in the post you responded to.

        JustTryThinking instead of slamming people who don't praise Microsoft.
      • You can already do that

        ... by storing the file on a storage site like google or What's the Microsoft difference?
      • Erm?

        Scenerio 1:

        Open up connection to file server. Edit document. Save back to file server. On the train you open up connection to file server. Edit document. Save back to file server. At home. Open connection to file server. Edit document. Save back to file server.

        Scenerio 2:

        Head Marketing Guy makes changes to powerpoint presentation. Field staff check Password protected Company Marketing Home Page. Download latest presentation.



        What is the big deal here? You have been able to do all those things for years with existing tech. Talk about selling the Emperor new clothes.
        • The difference

          Servers cost money.

          This doesn't.

          For that matter, Google docs doesn't cost anything either.

          It's a matter of preference when arguing between one Open Office maker and another, but there is a definate benefit over a server.