Google Apps vs. Office – The Next 3 Years

Here’s the problem. Microsoft Office was built in a world without internet. And until it’s clones free themselves from 1980s thinking, we will never see true innovation. Office was built in a world where you created a document, you finalized a document, and then you printed it out, and its existence continued as a static piece of paper in the real world. A letter is typed, printed, and mailed. It is static. That’s not how we operate today. Today, documents are living breathing things that evolve and represent ideas that evolve and have context. And an email is simply a way of communicating our current status, relationship, or news, it should not remain static. Today’s solutions still don’t come close to solving for this change.

I don’t want to create the document on my PC and then upload it to some group Workspace, SkyDrive, or SharePoint where it can be shared & edited by others. And I don’t want one program for managing emails, another for managing documents, another for slide decks, another for managing workspaces, another for notes, and another for IMs. I want to stop managing documents and start managing the business itself. The document should live in the group workspace to begin with. And the emails pertaining to that project should live there to. I should see a Workspace newsfeed that lets me know who has edited the documents, what new documents have been created, threaded emails, and relevant information on IMs, notes, meeting requests, tasks, LiveMeeting recordings, wikis, and blogs. With meta-data. And none of this should need to be uploaded to the workspace. It should all live within the workspace. So that I’m managing my project or my team, not my documents & my emails.

Today Google updated its Google Apps adding more Office-like functionality. It also unveiled a new intranet platform based on JotSpot which they acquired, and which has the potential to work similarly to SharePoint. The bigges thing holding Google back from widespread adoption is the user perception that things on the internet are impermanent. That a website is static, temporary, and can evaporate at a moment’s notice taking your content with it. But AJAX is slowly changing this perception. And Windows Presentation Foundation/Silverlight, and Adobe AIR/Flash will soon take that a step further. For Google, the transformation will be complete when Google one day soon announces that all of its Google Apps now work on Google Gears. While this platform is slowly being rolled out, you’ll see other teams at Google incrementally improve Google Apps features, so that by mid-’08 the 20% of Office features that represent 80% of users’ activity will be possible with Google Apps. And then we’ll be in for a real race. Office 14 will still be 1.5 years from shipping, which will give Google 1.5 years to gain market share, win credibility with corporations, so that when Office 14 ships a few corporate behemoths and their accountants realize how much they can save by switching to Google Apps and not upgrading to Office 14, drawing headlines.

And then the game will finally become purely about who is more innovative in solving the user’s pain. The only problem is that a rich-app seems to take 3 years to ship, while a web-based-Google-gears-supported-app can be refreshed at any time and gets the best of both worlds – the agility of constant experimentation, innovation, and marginal improvements with the capabilities of a rich app.

Call to action:

1. When Silverlight 2.0 ships in the next month, turn your attention to building your own version of Google Gears on the WPF/Silverlight platform. Like Google Gears, allow 3rd party developers to use it as well.

2. There isn’t time to wait for Office 15 for the type of innovation that I envision above. Start building this now. I made this up in 5 minutes. Imagine what you might come up with if you got 2 out of your 80,000 employees to think about it full-time. Create web-based-Google-gears style versions of your Office suite, and make them the primary while the rich-app is the secondary. Drive all the energy & innovation through the web-based versions and make incremental improvements as fast as possible, then package them up as rich-app versions every 2-3 years.

3. Then open up the APIs on these web-based apps and allow 3rd party developers to build add-ons. The value in the platform has always been in the ecosystem. Your rich-app ecosystems are rotting but there’s no reason you can’t build new platforms in the cloud.

4. Compete.

And may the best man win.

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