Thursday, June 17, 2010

Microsoft Office Online vs Google Docs

Last week, Microsoft announced the general availability of Office Online - a web based version of several popular Microsoft Office programs. Included in the suite, which has been integrated into the SkyDrive service, are the popular Microsoft Word, Excel, Powerpoint, and One Note applications, all bundled with 25 gigabytes of storage space.

I've been a Google Docs user for a few years now and I've always wished that Microsoft would release an online version of Office. While Google Docs did a great job at most things, it didn't always cut it when dealing with documents created in Microsoft Office programs like Word or Excel. Formatting was a bit off, fonts didn't quite transfer over, and a bunch of other little 'gotcha's' seemed to plague Google Docs that just didn't sit quite right with allowing me to use it for everyday use.

Overall, I'm very impressed with Office Online. I love the way documents transfer seamlessly from desktop Office programs to their online counterparts and then from online to desktop. The online software functions and looks nearly exactly like the desktop version so that, if you're familiar with any of the desktop Office programs, you'll have no problem getting started with Office Online. It's definitely going to give Google Docs a strong run for the money and I believe we're going to see a LARGE amount of Google Docs corporate users move over to Office Online.

That said, there are things I miss about Google Docs that are important enough to keep me using the software for at least a little while more. One of the strongest features is the ability to download documents in multiple formats. This is vital for anyone who wants to make sure they can share their documents with everyone, no matter what editing software they use.

Another 'must have' feature for me is Google Docs ability to create simple web forms to collect information that's then inserted into a spreadsheet for later processing. This might not seem like a deal breaker to you but, I assure you that, when you're needing to grab information from users, colleagues, or the public at large, it's pretty sweet.

Sure, it would be trivial for Microsoft to add these features to Office Online and I'm sure they will show up in some form or fashion. But will they be 'too little, too late' to lure a significant amount of the market away from other sites like Google Docs or, even, ZoHo Office? I'm not sure it will. If one of the competing services were to create a simple plugin for Microsoft Office desktop that would allow you to save documents directly to the cloud, it could be game over for Microsoft in their fight for online market share.

If I were a market analyzer, I'd bet my money that there's going to be a bloodbath in the office market very soon. Google, who hasn't changed their offering significantly in about a year, is going to have to step up their game in order to retain market share. Microsoft, who owns the desktop market, is going to leverage that power hard and push interoperability between the desktop and the cloud. They're going to leverage their desktop power and push tighter integration between the desktop and the cloud and we're going to see a just about seamless experience between the two pretty soon.

Ultimately, the battle will rage and the consumer will win. If anyone has the capability to compete directly with Microsoft, it's Google and they're going to compete very hard. Keep any eye for fast and massive movement on both sides and keep your options over.