Saturday, October 06, 2007

Thick, thin, and Office Live

The new Office Live is out and seems to be getting widely panned.

Mike Arrington says, "Microsoft has failed to understand the real power of Google Docs - easy, no hassle document creation, collaboration and access from the browser."

Richard MacManus writes, "Is this what Microsoft's answer to the Web Office is - tacked on features to its all-powerful desktop suite?"

But, the ever contrarian Nick Carr responds to Richard:
Well, yes, that's precisely what Microsoft's answer is. And while MacManus is right that Microsoft's offering is "messy" and even "muddled," one should not underestimate the company's ability to shape the market by tacking features onto its "all-powerful desktop suite." It's a strategy, after all, that has served the company well many times in the past.

Microsoft's online offering does not have to be better than, say, Google's; it just has to be (a) more convenient for typical business users with (b) good enough functionality.
Why Microsoft should do more than bolt features on to Office if those features are sufficient to undermine the appeal of switching elsewhere?

If you are collaborating a lot on documents, you could switch to Google Docs. Or, you could just get by using the beast with which you and all your colleagues already are familiar, Microsoft Office, with all its additional features. Office Live appears to be an attempt to add just enough collaboration to reduce the appeal of switching to Google Docs. Not a bad strategy.

As for Mike's point, well, yes, but Microsoft does not want everything to move to the browser. Their entire business depends on a thick client -- a PC loaded with code and data -- having more value than a thin client.

I am reminded of Upton Sinclair's words: "It is difficult to get a man to understand something when his salary depends on his not understanding it." Likewise, it will be difficult to get Microsoft to promote apps running in the browser when their business depends on maintaining the value of a heavyweight desktop machine.

Update: I want to be clear that there is a difference between analyzing Microsoft's strategy and endorsing it. I am not rooting for Microsoft or anyone else here, just trying to understand why they do what they do.


Toby DiPasquale said...

I wonder how this will play out with Mac and Linux users who typically don't plunk down the $300 it costs for MS Office. I've been using GDocs for about a year now and it does everything I would need and I can collaborate with others with the push of a button (the real killer app for bicoastal work). Hell, it even does some things better (e.g. showing me Japanese characters).

The other thing is that people using other Google apps (Gmail in particular) will be well integrated with Google Docs. Its one click to open an MS doc you get in Gmail with GDocs. If I'm not already using Exchange and Google can open all the docs I'm sent and they can export them to the format the rest of the world is used to, why am I buying Microsoft Office again?

Lets not forget how DEC left this world: they forgot about the bottom of the market. MS is doing the same right now with this release.

Greg Linden said...

Hi, Codeslinger. That's a good point about chipping away at the bottom of the market.

I only have MS Office installed on a small fraction of my machines (and not the latest version at that). I use OpenOffice and Google Docs frequently.

On the other hand, you and I are geeks and fairly tolerant of problems that arise when not using Microsoft Office. The mainstream users of the world, especially those using Microsoft Office in in a business setting, may view even a small hassle with compatibility as worth a couple hundred dollars to avoid.