2010: Office Wars

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Microsoft Office has been THE standard for document creation in the English speaking business world for at least a decade. The components of Word, Excel, PowerPoint, and Outlook, when paired with an Exchange Server has been the de facto standard in business. Word can manage simple text documents, complete academic papers, and even simple desktop publishing tasks. Excel spreadsheets are used in everything from accounting to basic databases, to mini-programs when combined with macros. And, who hasn’t heard of “Death by PowerPoint”? Outlook is the preeminent e-mail/calendar/groupware solution that hasn’t had any real competition outside the ever present but lagging Lotus Notes. Microsoft has owned the business content creation market since the early 90s, with no realistic competition. There is a vested interest in Microsoft protecting their profit center around Office, and they won’t go down without a fight…

In 2010, the game is finally going to change. 2009 has been marked with trends around the mobility of business users, and the increasing globalization of companies’ workforces. Thus, the word “cloud” has snuck into IT vocabularies across the nation. In order to service mobile users, data and documents need to be accessible anywhere. Various startups (Zoho, Writely (acquired by Google), and others) have been touting this concept for years, under “collaborative document editing”. Realistically, all this means is that the latest version of the document is stored in the “cloud” and multiple users can access it and edit it either online, or offline (and upload the changes later).

The battle will unfold with new innovations from Microsoft and Google. Microsoft’s Office 2010 is introducing a number of significant changes to their business model, as follows:

  1. Office 2010 will have a free version – Until now, the cheapest version was Home & Student, which could occasionally be found for $69.99 on special
  2. Office 2010 will save documents to the cloud – Microsoft will support this natively, offering free, but limited storage for home and business use
  3. Office 2010 will focus on interoperability – The EU has been forcing Microsoft to open up their formats and natively support ODF, and Microsoft voluntarily incorporates support for PDF

Google, the upstart competitor in this battle, has been adding features to their Apps offering to really compete in this space. Here’s their approach:

  1. Google Apps will not match Microsoft from a feature to feature perspective – Google Apps just needs to be “good enough” (and cheaper) to switch
  2. Get Major Institutions to switch to Google Apps
  3. Build an Ecosystem around Google Apps – Offline through Chrome and Extensions through Labs
  4. Emphasize Search – Google started as a search company, and searching all your documents from anywhere, anytime will be a sizable draw…

So, where does this lead? Microsoft Office is the obvious incumbent, with great new features coming. Google Apps is getting stronger everyday, but is clearly lacking (and will continue to lack features). Either way, this will be a great year for document creation, making it easier for consumers and businesses to share and collaborate on documents. I, for one, am excited to see the results…

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