Nick Carr has an interesting post in Microsoft almost certainly will enter the Web Office suite market response to the new Web Office wiki released yesterday by JotSpot, covered here on my blog and also by Dan Farber. Dan called JotSpot's new product a "nascent wiki-based office suite", which is how I see it too - because the new JotSpot wiki integrates word processing, spreadsheets, calendars, File Cabinets, Photo Pages.
Nick Carr agrees that "more office tools will come to reside on the web", however he's not convinced that JotSpot building a Web Office suite is the best way for them to go about it. His main argument is that the Web Office suite market "is Microsoft's to lose". He notes:
'As Microsoft continues to expand its own web functionality, adding a web services layer to Office and incorporating wiki functionality as well as other collaboration tools, it will have an enormous advantage. Its web services will be integrated from the get-go with the business world's default productivity suite, Microsoft Office. It's going to be awfully hard to compete head-on with Microsoft if your marketing pitch is that your product "has some of the familiarity and functionality of Office."'
If that was all that JotSpot is doing, I'd agree with Nick. But I think he's missed an important part of JotSpot's strategy - that they're not only embracing the Microsoft Office suite of products, they aim to extend it too. This was something that JotSpot CEO Joe Kraus was at pains to point out in my interview with him back in March. At that time Kraus told me:
"Our goal wasn't just to build Excel online. In fact I believe that Excel will be 'Excel Online'. Microsoft isn't dumb and they get this revolution about 'software as a service' much more than they got the Internet revolution. They're getting it much more quickly. So we believe where Tracker is headed is not only to embrace the capabilities of Excel - you've got to do that. But you've also got to extend it beyond what Excel is currently envisioned as today, in order to provide lasting value. Because otherwise I think you're going to get your lunch eaten, over time as Microsoft rolls in."
So JotSpot knows full well that Microsoft can - and probably will - eat their lunch in the Web Office suite market. But I think what they're doing with their wiki-based office apps is extending office software functionality, which is really their only chance to gain market share off Microsoft (still a huge task though).
On this topic, Joe Wilcox of Microsoft Monitor is skeptical that Microsoft will ever do a Web Office suite:
"I'll be first to say that I don't expect Microsoft to release a hosted version of Office anytime soon, if ever. Big reason: There is no reason. According to JupiterResearch surveys, 6 percent of businesses with 100 or employees use a hosted productivity suite like ThinkFree. That's a small percentage, and I suspect much of it represents testing or experimentation. Office 2007 is so profitable, it's like a Federal Reserve Mint that prints money. Microsoft won't muck with Office on the desktop, unless there is serious hosted competition--and there isn't any."
Again, like with Nick Carr's post, JupiterResearch: 6% of businesses use a Web Office suite already it's hard to argue against the logic of what Joe Wilcox is saying. But then again, 6% of businesses use a Web Office suite already?! That's actually higher than I thought it would be. As I've said many times before here, I think we're at the very early stages of the Web Office. The functionality and stability of web-based office apps is still a fair way behind that of a modern-day desktop suite, like MS Office. But over time web-based technology and stability will improve - and so I'm confident that when the Web platform matures, the collaboration and networking aspects that Web-based suites offer will gradually take market share from desktop suites.
And mark my words, Microsoft will certainly move with that trend. However Wilcox is right to say that Microsoft will only do that if they get "serious hosted competition". I think it's only a matter of time before that competition arises. Whether it's JotSpot, or ThinkFree, or some other Web Office suite contender - remains to be seen. But the underlying trend of the Office suite moving to the Web platform is, I believe, clear to see.