10 Reasons Microsoft Office Shouldn't Fear Google Docs

By Don Reisinger  |  Posted 2010-04-19

10 Reasons Microsoft Office Shouldn't Fear Google Docs

As Microsoft prepares to release Office 2010 to enterprise users and consumers in May and June, the product's ability to compete with Web-based productivity suites, especially Google Docs, is being called into question. Some say by virtue of being available online and accessible from any computer, Google Docs is better than Office. Some experts also say as Google continues to improve its software, the gap in power and effectiveness between Office and Google Docs is getting smaller. Plus, Office is expensive, while Google's service is offered for free.

Those arguments are certainly compelling. But to say Google Docs will be able to supplant Office or force Microsoft to make tough decisions regarding Office any time soon is ridiculous. Office 2010 might not be entering the kind of market that its predecessors did, but it's also not being released in a market that's against it. Google Docs is a fine software package with great promise. But over the next few years, the chances of it doing much damage to Office are slim.

Here's why:

1. Market share

Google has shown time and again that it can enter a market that has an entrenched leader and take it over. But it's doubtful that the company can do so in the office productivity space. Microsoft's Office software is in use by too many people and companies for Google to steal away significant market share. It's certainly possible for Google to take some share, but when all's said and done, Microsoft won't lose enough of the market for it to need to worry that Google is on its way to domination. For now, Office stands alone in its market and no other company's product can come close.

2. Microsoft's bottom line

Office contributes heavily to Microsoft's bottom line. Realizing that, Microsoft considers Office one of its most important products. As Google continues to deliver a Web-based alternative to Office, Microsoft should find comfort in its own desire to maintain status quo. If nothing else, Microsoft has shown that if it believes a particular software solution is important to its future, it will focus its energy on those areas. It did so with Windows to much success and it can do the same with Office if it's forced to. Google might do well, but Microsoft needs to remember that when a key application is being targeted, it can respond effectively.

3. Power is important

Try working with Office Excel and performing the many functions it offers. Now go to the Google Docs spreadsheet application and attempt to perform all those same tasks. Chances are, Google's alternative won't get the job done. That's a problem for Google. Although the company has done a good job of improving its offering, Google Docs is not nearly as powerful as Office. And for many users, losing that power is unacceptable.

4. Office is heavily entrenched

A version of Office is currently installed on the vast majority of computers worldwide. That's an important consideration when determining the viability of Google Docs. The biggest challenge Google faces is getting people to stop using Office and move to Google Docs. If Office weren't so ubiquitous, it would be easy, since the search giant's alternative is free. But Office is everywhere. And for most folks, getting the money they spent out of Office is important. Simply put, Office's ubiquity is a major obstacle for Google.

5. The enterprise trump card

The enterprise is Microsoft's trump card in the productivity market. Companies are simply unwilling to use any other suite because of their desire for something that can adequately deliver the kind of power and functionality they need. Google Docs cannot currently offer that kind of power. And it's doubtful that it will be able to match Office any time soon. The more Microsoft can capitalize on the enterprise and its desire for Office, the longer Office will reign supreme.

Selling the Cloud

6. User misunderstanding

For years, consumers and employees have been using Office to type out documents, create spreadsheets and build presentations. They have become comfortable using Office. Trying to get them to switch to a Web-based solution will be one of Google's biggest challenges. Mainstream users are notoriously complacent. They don't see the need to switch to new products unless there is a compelling reason to do so. And trying something new can sometimes be intimidating. For the most part, users don't understand the idea behind Web-based productivity suites and many don't want to try to learn about them. Ballmer can rest easy knowing that.

7. The cloud is for niche markets right now

Following that, it's important to realize that the cloud is not yet on the mainstream user's radar. If Google or Microsoft polled average PC users right now and asked how they plan to integrate cloud computing into their lives, I'm willing to bet that the vast majority of respondents wouldn't know. But if those companies polled IT professionals or top executives at companies, they would know for sure how the cloud could help them. Like anything else, it takes time for major tech trends to shift from the niche to the mainstream. The cloud is just one of those things. And Google Docs, unlike Office, relies on that realm.

8. Google's halfway strategy

Google's Google Docs strategy is somewhat perplexing. The company has consistently updated the software to make it more appealing to users, but it hasn't done enough to promote it as an alternative to Office. If it really wants to take on Microsoft, Google needs to do a much better job of marketing Docs as the next big thing in productivity. Mainstream users don't know that Google Docs could replace Office. And Microsoft certainly won't tell them. If Google doesn't actively seek out Docs users, Microsoft won't need to worry.

9. Time is on its side

When compared with Office, it's blatantly clear that Google Docs just isn't ready for widespread use. Yes, the software will work just fine for word processing, and some users might find its spreadsheets application useful enough. But Google needs to work hard at improving Docs over the next few years to eventually get it on the same level as Office. That won't be easy, since Microsoft has a big head start. Still, if Google wants its suite to be considered an alternative to Office, it needs to get to work on several improvements that could take a long time to implement. For Microsoft, that means a few more years before it needs to worry about Google.

10. Microsoft is online too

We can't forget that Microsoft is attempting to cut Google off at the pass by offering Office online. The company's Web integration won't be able to match Office 2010, but being able to switch from the desktop version of the software to a Web-based version to continue working while on the go should appeal to most users. So while Google might have a Web-based alternative to match Office, Microsoft is delivering both a desktop version and an online version of its software. That effectively gives users a choice that they can't get from Google. And that, like many other things, could stunt Google's growth in the productivity space.

Rocket Fuel