Comfort, trust give Office edge over Google

Microsoft will only offer hosted productivity suite next year, but Office has user familiarity, trust and resources that Google may not match, say analysts.

LOS ANGELES--The fight for the productivity suite crown steps up in the online realm with the impending launch of Microsoft Office Web Apps, and analysts say the software giant appears to have an edge, over rival Google Apps--thanks to user familiarity and trust of Office products.

Jens Butler, principal analyst at Ovum, pointed out in an e-mail that Microsoft's delay in offering an online version of Office has allowed Google the opportunity to build market share and become a "major player" in this space.

However, this advantage may not be sustained once Microsoft starts to "throw its marketing weight" behind its new offerings, Butler said.

Allan Krans, senior technology analyst at Technology Business Research (TBR), added that while Google Apps has been available in the market for some time, the company "hasn't seen a lot of success in winning big deals and taking money off the table for Microsoft".

Responding to Google executive Dave Girouard's claims that Google Docs will reach a level of maturity next year such that users can choose to stop using Microsoft Office if they opted to, Krans said increasing functionality for Google Apps was important but this might not guarantee users would make the transition from Office.

"They may be able to release 30 to 50 updates, but getting the product on par with Office will be difficult to achieve," he said.

User familiarity, which takes time to build up, will provide Microsoft an advantage as people are comfortable with its products, he noted. At the same time, Redmond has "thousands of developers devoted to Office", while Google appears to be "throwing significantly less resources" at its applications.

Fellow TBR analyst Stuart Williams said a recent survey of over 1,000 cloud services adopters highlighted that their top concerns were security, privacy and ease of integration.

"The strongest barriers to the adoption of Google solutions among enterprises is [the company's] ability and commitment to providing enterprise-level security and privacy, for the data users enter into the Google cloud," said Williams, who is TBR's senior analyst for enterprise software. "Many customers will not adopt the free version of the offerings until stronger security and privacy measures are put in place."

He noted that Microsoft's cloud offerings such as hosted Exchange and SharePoint, saw over twice the level of adoption compared to Google Apps. "This indicates that Microsoft already has the trust of many businesses regarding the security and privacy of their documents and data, and is ahead of Google in this regard," he said.

Microsoft avails Office 2010 beta
On its end, Microsoft is confident the Web companions from Google will not be able to replace Office "anytime in the near future", Kurt DelBene, Microsoft's senior vice president of Office productivity, told ZDNet Asia in an interview on the sidelines of the company's Professional Developer Conference (PDC).

Functionality was a key factor, DelBene said, despite Google's claims that the Office tool was an "overkill".

"What we've observed and what our customers are coming back to tell us, is that [Google's] understanding of the needs of the enterprise market is still pretty early-on. Google doesn't seem to have a super-rich understanding of what their customers are telling them in terms of what functionality they need," he said.

With its Office Web Apps, Microsoft is extending the "rich, high-fidelity" client experience to the mobile platform, though it does not see the online service as a replacement of the client offering, he added.

Competence was another factor Microsoft has evolved beyond personal productivity, and into organizational productivity, he said. The software giant, he pointed out, has constant conversations with customers about topics such as securing of information, rights management and workflow.

At the company's conference this week, DelBene announced public beta releases for Office 2010, SharePoint Server 2010, Visio 2010, Project 2010 and Office Mobile 2010.

New in the Office 2010 beta is an Outlook Social Connector, he said. The social networking feature allows users to integrate social and activity information from SharePoint and Windows Live in a single pane within Outlook, such that they will be able to view their various types of interaction with their contacts, such as e-mail and meetings. As part of this initiative, Microsoft will be releasing a third-party SDK (software development kit), with executive social networking site LinkedIn, set to be the first to connect into the feature early next year.

Microsoft is targeting to formally launch Office 2010 and Office Web Apps in the first half of next year.

In another business-related announcement, DelBene said Duet Enterprise for Microsoft SharePoint and SAP will be available from the second half of 2010. The new Duet, jointly developed by Microsoft and SAP, is an additional set of capabilities that provides a "richer environment" for building apps on the server and client. Capabilities from the current Duet 1.5, will be transitioned into Duet Enterprise over time.

Vivian Yeo reported from the Microsoft Professional Developer Conference in Los Angeles, California.