The missing links
We’ve looked at what’s included in the Google Office, but what’s missing from the product line-up and how could Google fill the gaps quickly and effectively? The most obvious missing elements are database and presentation tools. The database is unlikely to be the result of the acquisition trail, as Google Base (http://base.google.com
) has the basics required to build a Google-centric application already. It enables the uploading of data in a structured and searchable format, which could easily morph into a database component sometime in the future.
A tool to compete with PowerPoint could potentially emerge without the need for an acquisition – it’s been suggested that much of the functionality required is available from the underlying technology that drives Google Maps. One source claimed the technology Google uses to put detail on maps
could be used to create presentations. However, the money is on Google snapping up Thumbstacks. (www.thumbstacks.com
There’s no doubt that if Google is to compete directly with Microsoft, then it needs to bridge the gap between online apps and the Desktop. Apart from releasing a Desktop-based set of office applications (unlikely) and a Google OS (even more unlikely), the most obvious route to connect the two would be the rumoured GDrive product. This had long been discounted by Google, until someone slipped up and made some (quickly removed) slide comments within a PowerPoint presentation to analysts a few months back. Naturally, these found their way into the blogosphere and revealed what Google is thinking: “With infinite storage, we can house all user files, including emails, web history, pictures, bookmarks and so on, and make it accessible from anywhere (any device, any platform, etc). We already have efforts in this direction in terms of GDrive, GDS, Lighthouse... As we move toward the ‘Store 100’ reality, the online copy of your data will become your Golden Copy and your local-machine copy serves more like a cache.”
Although nobody knows for sure, and Google isn’t saying, it seems likely that the Lighthouse mentioned is some kind of file-management system. This would mean that when the user clicks on data stored on the GDrive, Lighthouse would deal with the access and sharing rights, and decide which application should open it. Should Microsoft be worried? Well, not in the short term, not on the evidence of the office products released by Google so far.
Whereas Google has developed a series of disparate and lightweight applications, Microsoft Office is a truly integrated productivity platform. And it’s also moving away from being just a client-based thing and into the server-based application space.Microsoft muscles in
Although most observers seem fixated upon whether Google is trying to muscle in on Microsoft’s dominance of office applications, they’ve missed the more interesting question: is Microsoft muscling in on Google?
Look at the Microsoft Windows Live strategy of delivering email, IM, search and other collaborative services inside the browser rather than on the desktop. You might wonder why it would do this, especially as there’s more than a hint of rebranding existing MSN features here. But MSN already trails behind both Google and Yahoo in audience reach and online revenues. What Microsoft is doing, quite apart from integrating its client and server strategies, is building a platform that can deliver a bigger slice of the online advertising spend. Microsoft is playing Google at its own game. If anyone should be worried, it’s Google, for Microsoft has a better track record than anyone when it comes to cementing its own technologies, developing partnerships and marketing platforms.
The really clever thing, if looked at from a strategic level, is the fact that by extending the capabilities of existing software and services rather than building additional features onto the desktop product line, Microsoft can most likely escape the anti-trust- type issues that have dogged the company in recent years. At the same time, tight integration with those desktop machines means that functionality isn’t compromised and the transition to browser-based services becomes less problematical for home users and businesses alike.
Don’t be fooled by the bizarre US-only Office Live Beta (http://officelive.microsoft.com
), which brings contact management, project management, group calendaring, email and web hosting together in one package. This isn’t what Microsoft sees as being Microsoft Office online, despite the confusing product naming. It could, however, be the basis of additional functionality that’s to be bolted on over time.Google Office: good or bad?
Whether Google Office is an option for you depends on whether you’re a
home or business user. Free is good, collaboration is good, but no access to business-strength support is very bad. Businesses of any size are going to be wary about having corporate documents residing on a third-party server out of their control. Then there’s the problem of what happens when you need to access your document, your spreadsheet or your schedule, but can’t access the internet. The web-based office as a serious business tool currently has too many limitations to be taken seriously.
For the home user, many of those limitations evaporate. If it’s free, easy to use and powerful enough for casual use, Google will have little difficulty in persuading those who’d rather save their money and hard disk space to
leave Microsoft Office and even OpenOffice.org behind.
|Thumbstacks is the most likely suspect to be acquired in order to fill the Google PowerPoint gap.|