Microsoft's one chance to move to the cloud

Microsoft could give Google Docs a run for its money -- if it's really serious about the cloud

InfoWorld's own Neil McAllister did a great reporting piece on the first glimpse of Microsoft Office Web Apps: "Microsoft's move to the Web comes as no surprise. Office has long been the Redmond-based giant's cash cow, but it faces increasing competition from low-cost alternatives, including the open source suite and particularly from Web-based offerings from the likes of Google and Zoho. With Google promoting the idea that all software can run inside the browser, Microsoft has little choice but to nip its rival's momentum in the bud."

As Office Web Apps moves out as a "technical preview," last week there were reports that Google Docs is "widely used" at 1 in 5 workplaces. That's killing Office Web Apps, in my book. As I've stated a few times in this blog, I'm an avid Google Docs user, leveraging it to collaborate on documents and cloud development projects, as well as run entire companies. Although Google Docs provides only a subset of features and functions you'll find in Microsoft Office, it's good enough to be productive. But the collaborative features are the real selling point.

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If Microsoft can provide most of its Office features in the cloud, it has an opportunity to stop Google's momentum, and even perhaps take market share. After all, one of the values of being in the cloud is the ability to change clouds quickly just by pointing your browser someplace else. If Microsoft has a better on-demand product, and the price is right, I'll switch.

Also, if you look at Microsoft's existing enterprise cloud offerings, such as Office Outlook Web Access, you see that Microsoft can get cloud. Indeed, it can create Web-delivered applications that look and function very close to native. If Microsoft can carry this experience to Office Web Apps, it will have a bright future indeed. However, in many instances I see Microsoft calling some great plays, gathering the best players, but not scoring the game-winning touchdowns these days.

This is Microsoft's one chance to get this right. Otherwise, it's going to be all Google all the time for cloud-delivered office automation. That's not such a bad thing; Google is doing a great job. However, a bit of healthy competition would be a better thing.

Copyright © 2009 IDG Communications, Inc.

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