SAN FRANCISCO -- Every now and then a batch of stories cooks up that Google Apps, primarily its Docs suite of word processing, spreadsheet and presentation applications, is intended primarily to distract Microsoft from competing with Google on the Internet.
The theory goes that by creating a SAAS alternative to Microsoft Office, a core Microsoft business, Google will expand its lead in search and/or other areas online.
Fast Company's Kaihan Krippendorff compares this "strategic innovation" to a clever ancient Chinese war strategy.
My Microsoft Watch colleague Joe Wilcox sees Google Chrome as the core area Google wants to attack Microsoft. Since the Sept. 1 launch, Chrome hasn't amounted to much, but Firefox didn't get its 20 percent market share over night.
These posts came out earlier this week. Why did I wait until Friday to respond? I wanted to wait until I met with Google Enterprise President Dave Girouard, who oversees Google Apps, at Web 2.0 Summit Thursday. Not surprisingly, Girouard resists the theory that Google Apps is just a distraction:
"We're certainly not in this business to be a distraction to anybody. We're in it to solve big, important computer science-related problems and to build a big profitable business for Google. Google Apps and Google Enterprise are only about five years old and it's a business that already delivers hundreds of millions of dollars of revenue and is profitable. If you look at the bigger Google, a company that's 10 years old and has built a very large advertising business that quickly, what's not to like about a modest-sized business that's growing quickly and that's profitable?"
Can we even call a business that earns hundreds of millions of dollars per year a mere distraction? Seems more like a viable rival to me.
Is Google Apps currently a threat to Microsoft Office, and even SharePoint? Not much of one now, but Google is playing for the deep pass, banking on the idea that 10, 20 years out, the SAAS alternatives we use as consumers and small businesses now will drift into big enterprises.
Watch Google's blogs closely and you'll see Google Apps is getting increasingly enterprise-friendly. If you're watching closely, you'll stop looking at Google Apps as merely a distraction for Microsoft.
Not enough for you? Consider this: If Google Apps is just a distraction for Microsoft, why is Microsoft opting to go whole hog into the cloud, not only with a cloud Windows platform called Azure, but with Microsoft's Office Web, a SAAS alternative to Google Apps.
That play, which surprised my colleague Wilcox, signals Google Apps is more than misdirection; it's an industry shift toward the future of applications. Again, don't take it from me, as Girouard welcomed Microsoft to the cloud.
"We're not surprised, it's an endorsement of the Web platform as the way of the future and is indicative of the amount of success we've had in just a year and a half. I think we actually welcome it, more people and more businesses are going to start to think of this as the future and we're happy to be compared with Microsoft's offerings and we think we'll do really well when people look at what we both offer."
Those are the words of a viable competitor, not a pesky irritant. What do you think of Google's App play now?