Will Google Docs Replace Word? Perhaps, but Not Today.

By  |  Friday, November 13, 2009 at 9:59 pm

Google is predicting that its online office suite, Google Docs, will soon give people the option to “get rid of” Microsoft Office. With Google Docs in a less than robust state, that pronouncement sounds more like vendor bravado than prophecy.

Google’s entire premise is based on vaporware: It is promising to update Google Docs within the next year so that it will meet “the vast majority’s needs,” Dave Girouard, president of Google’s enterprise division told ZDNet Asia in an interview published on Friday.

Google is planning “thirty to fifty” updates that will make Docs more capable and on par with Google Mail and Calendar, Girouard said. He believes that businesses do not use Google Docs because it has not reached the same level of maturity as those products.

If Microsoft made a similar pronouncement, it would have been immediately dismissed as peddling vaporware. Even if Google gets it right, there is no guarantee that enterprises will make the switch for a multitude of reasons.

I believe that Girouard is overreaching with his marketing message. Organizations have standardized on Word, and have processes built around it. Switching would require training, and replacing software that is built around it.

Issues such as electronic discovery and staying compliant with privacy laws also come to mind. Who will own the data, and where will it reside? Will developers be content with the APIs that Google provides, and will they extend its functionality to be more business-friendly? Microsoft is years ahead building out the Office ecosystem.

Moreover, there are very good free and open source alternatives to Word that exist today–not at some nebulous date next year. Yet, Office still remains dominant, and Microsoft is also not resting on its laurels: Office 2010 beta 2 includes some Web services, and it has hosting partners.

Girouard made another point that begs more thoughtful analysis. “…I don’t think Office will entirely disappear, Instead, Microsoft’s offering will become a specialized offering for office workers who need its additional functions, akin to Adobe Photoshop, which is targeted at skilled workers,” he told ZDNet.

Presently, most Google’s products are aimed at consumers. I am not familiar with any large enterprises that run them aside from universities that have cut deals with Google to administer their Web mail. Students have little influence over the purchase, and any complaints likely go unheeded. Businesses don’t play that way.

The time may come when most businesses do turn to Web services for productivity software. Salesforce.com has proven that mission-critical business applications can be run remotely reliably. However, the big shift will not happen next year, and Microsoft will be a part of it.

 
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10 Comments For This Post

  1. Viki Says:

    As you have mentioned, Microsoft seems to have realized that Google can’t be taken lightly and they need to up their game – mainly in the field of online integration of its services.

    The improvements they have shown in Bing, tell us that they have taken measure of the threat Google is for them and only way to be on top is to evolve and bring innovation, like Google does with all its products every other day.

    Microsoft has deep penetration in the Office market and now they see Google making inroads in that too – hence they are up on their feet and making things happen. So in a way the consumer wins as they have been proactive in adding new features to all their products – and doling out offers they would never have before Google. For Eg: The Microsoft Office 2010 Ad-Supported Version.

    This is a new experiment and if successfully implemented, I am sure they would give Google Docs a much more stiff competition, than Google had expected.

  2. IcyFog Says:

    Google Docs already meets my needs, and in my opinion surpasses Word as far as ease of use is concerned.

  3. Tom B Says:

    “Switching would require training, and replacing software that is built around it.”

    MSWord requires a lot of training already. It’s easy enough to type a business letter, but try to do something a little complex– columns; turning off “helpful” MSFT “features”– and you’re on thin ice.

    “Moreover, there are very good free and open source alternatives to Word that exist today–not at some nebulous date next year. Yet, Office still remains dominant,”

    1. Businesses move slowly and are ALWAYs 10-20 years behind the times, tech wise. Heck, they’re still using Windows, right?
    2. I use NeoOffice. Clunky, but free and full-featured.
    3. Having stuff “in the cloud” does have key advantages for very mobile people. Though it makes me nervous, too.
    4. People like Google. AND people like free. That will speed adoption.

  4. Tech Says:

    I don’t think Google Docs will ever replace Word. Especially since Office is going online next year.

  5. tom b Says:

    “I don’t think Google Docs will ever replace Word. Especially since Office is going online next year.”

    The online version of Word might not be exactly like the Office version: it could be feature-incomplete, or have a UI different enough to add training costs. It might be optimized for IE and not work the same on modern browsers.

    But the big issue is that a person would have to be nuts to trust MSFT with any kind of mission-critical data on-line. Windows is the most hackable legacy OS on the planet.

  6. LycanR1 Says:

    Ok, please will one mature journalist stand up and be brave enough to do a comparison between Microsoft Word which has years of R&D with Google Docs. This push for us in business to adopt Google Docs is always met with employees who never ever get the downside talk from journalists. First off, Google indexes the documents, nearly every employee that I meet from the companies I consult with do not know this. After finding out, they say “no way”.

    Google is behaving like a bank that offers information deposits rather than cash deposits, rather than paying you a percentage interest due to your deposit in the bank, Google pays you nothing. They get your content, your behaviors, for free. Until that changes, and until Google can offer a real Word Processor independent of its information depositing system, no we cannot use it. In fact, until we see more “Information Banks”, this is a serious breach of privacy and confidentiality of business information.

    These people in business worked extremely hard to collect the information they assemble into documents, for Google to get these for free is absolutely criminal. Some of our documents span contributions from 30+ people, at around 30-120 dollars an hour. Those documents are EXPENSIVE pieces of intellectual property no matter how small. Even simple documents which take one member of staff two hours to generate, theoretically cost upwards of 60+ dollars for the employee to make. What do I get from Google? What do I get from Microsoft?

    Microsoft Word has been an extremely powerful tool for people that take the time to learn it. Our businesses, when trained on a few key features can assemble and modify documents rapidly on Windows File Shares within the corporate environment. Our servers already index the documents for search.

    The immature media needs to wake up, Information Banks like Google are now doing what Depository Banks did back in the day. The users need to fight for their intellectual property and claim a stake on any proceeds the bank makes on their IP.

  7. Robin Says:

    > I am not familiar with any large enterprises that run [Google products] aside from universities that have cut deals with Google to administer their Web mail. Students have little influence over the purchase…

    Er, sorry for nitpicking, but Google Apps education edition is free: http://www.google.com/a/help/intl/en/edu/

    Any school paying $50/seat/year for Premier edition is just stupid, unless they think 25 GB of mail is that much better than ~7 GB.

  8. Jolyon Says:

    I work and live in a a major university environment with 24/7 high speed Ethernet connections to the web so my situation is MUCH better than that of most people accessing the web. As wonderful as the web is, it’s also very unreliable. Speeds vary wildly and sometimes sites just can’t be accessed. All this talk about web computing, the cloud, etc. (of which the Google Office conversation is a part) is yet another in a long line of high tech promises that are far beyond the actual capabilities of the technology implementations constraining most users. If I take my laptop to a meeting, I can be pretty certain I can open and work with any application and file located on my hard drive. If I have to access capabilities on the web, they are often too slow or unreliable to count on in the real time unfolding of meeting events. It will be years and many billions of dollars of investment before this problem is surpassed and, given the typical model of implementing and dispersing technology in the United States, reliable web based tools are still likely to be available only to those willing to pay very significant fees for that access.

  9. tindog Says:

    It certainly won’t replace anything until it can handle whatever size document I need it to handle.

  10. Jens Says:

    Eigentlich bin ich ja nicht so der “Blog-Fan” aber nach deinem Artikel überleg ich mir das glaube ich nochmal… Danke!

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