Staving Off the Competition

By Don Reisinger  |  Posted 2009-08-24 Print this article Print

As Microsoft started scrambling for ways to address its patent infringement and get Word back into Office, perhaps the most dangerous scenario would see end users opt for Google Docs. Right now, Google Docs, a free office suite, can't quite stack up to Excel or PowerPoint. But considering word processing is so important to office productivity, it's possible that Google Docs' Document app, which is on par in many ways with Word, would coax users to Google's side, from which they might never return. We also can't forget that OpenOffice is a viable alternative to Office and, according to i4i, is free from any legal recourse. If users don't opt for either one of those alternatives, they can choose an online office suite, like Zoho, which also provides an attractive service.

Regardless of the alternative that users opt for, it could be disastrous for Microsoft. All of the aforementioned services are free. They boast features that, for many users, are more than enough to help them complete the tasks they set out to perform. And since both Google and Zoho are online, it makes documents readily available anywhere, anytime, as long as users have access to the Web. Those three features alone might be enough to keep Office users away from Microsoft even with the release of a newly updated Word.

So as we consider what Microsoft's recourse is as it battles with i4i, its strategy seems clear: Engage in legal battles as soon as possible to limit the amount of time Word is in limbo, while focusing efforts back at headquarters that ensure the company doesn't allow its competitors to capture market share and possibly hurt its ability to compete as effectively in the marketplace. 

There is another option for Microsoft to pursue to try to cut its potential losses. Considering i4i is ostensibly pursuing the patent-infringement case for its own (financial) gain, Microsoft has the option of settling with the company through a licensing deal. It would reduce the amount of time Microsoft would need to suffer without Word revenue.  i4i would receive a revenue stream from Microsoft. And the software giant could move on, set its sights back on Google, and get back to work. 

However, i4i has made it clear on numerous occasions that it doesn't want to simply settle and move on. It's content to leave its case in the court's hands. 

"Where we come from, if someone tries to take something that belongs to you, you stand up to them; you don't just reach for the calculator," i4i Chairman Loudon Owen said in an eWEEK interview. "We're not in a position to guess or second-guess or speculate as to what the court is going to do."

Microsoft's future could be drastically changed if it doesn't find a way to win its legal battle. But who would have thought that it would be a small, unknown company called i4i that would cause so many problems for the software giant? I, for one, had my money on Google changing Microsoft's future.

Don Reisinger is a freelance technology columnist. He started writing about technology for Ziff-Davis' Since then, he has written extremely popular columns for, Computerworld, InformationWeek, and others. He has appeared numerous times on national television to share his expertise with viewers. You can follow his every move at

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