Microsoft has really come out swinging against Google in the last couple of days, repeating their "all in" cloud mantra and delivering two significant blows against Google's Apps. I covered their partnership with ePals over on the ZDNet Education blog and the potential coup it represented in the K12 education space. Their Facebook Docs effort, announced yesterday at the f8 conference is another direct attack on Google, although I hardly think it will have the impact that ZDNet's Zack Whittaker predicts.
In a way, the ability to integrate Office Web Apps into Facebook is far more of a symbolic battle cry than "Google Docs Killer." How many Facebook users will be seriously collaborating on documents together or using Facebook as their content creation platform of choice? Maybe they'll share party planning lists or will be able to richly format their "How well do you know Chris Dawson?" quizzes, but this is hardly an enterprise concern. Enterprises will either continue adopting Google Apps or will further invest in a Microsoft ecosystem which will, with the release of Office 2010, provide access to enterprise-grade Office Web Apps intended as a supplement to desktop computing. As Mary Jo Foley describes in her summary of the state of Web Apps,
The business version requires SharePoint Server 2010 in order to be used by a customer on-premises, or can be used as a hosted subscription service managed by Microsoft. Those wanting to run Office Web Apps on premises must purchase a volume license version of Office Professional Plus 2010 or Office Standard 2010 to get a license for Office Web Apps.
I think it's pretty safe to say that enterprises (whether schools or businesses) will not substitute a lean version of Office running in Facebook for Sharepoint and Office Professional. Will they substitute Google Apps as their turnkey groupware, collaboration, and productivity solution? Many already have and for some it's a great choice. For others, the fidelity and management just isn't there yet. In any case, the Google-Microsoft war will continue to play out in the cloud, with Facebook as a single battlefront.
Jennifer Leggio, on the other hand, has hit the nail on the head. The Microsoft Docs application is probably not as big a deal as the Facebook Open Graph platform on which it's built. As she noted,
As for Google, it’s been fighting Facebook in the social category to no avail for some time. Will it wave the white flag or will it come back swinging against Facebook? If the latter, it had best pack one heck of a social punch.
She's right, of course. Google's Buzz buttons are a good start, but they have an uphill battle for the clicks, links, sharing, and associated revenue potential of the Facebook social juggernaut. Where Facebook Docs is a big deal, though, is the threat it represents in principal to Google's approach. Although Google is and remains a major proponent of the open Web and offers its tools and resources freely to developers, Microsoft's willingness to leverage a variety of assets from other providers to grow its ecosystem and integrate its applications into the cloud should be a concern to Google.
Where Google has opened its APIs and found a success with Android and its Marketplaces (both for Google Apps and Android), Microsoft's brand and integration with dominant desktop tools makes it a desirable partner for other companies looking to leverage Microsoft's assets and market share. Google fortunately has plenty of cash, an increasingly rich toolkit of HTML 5 applications, and active international open source and proprietary development communities. Mergers and acquisitions, brand management, and aggressive integration with social tools will all be vital to its success in consumer, enterprise, and vertical markets.