Microsoft and Google take aim at each other

Microsoft owns desktop apps, Google rules search, and both are trying to chip away at the other's strength

There's a philosophy of battle that says, rather than attack your opponent's weaknesses, go right at his strength. Microsoft did just that with its launch  of the Bing search (excuse me, decision) engine last week. Now Google if firing back, announcing significant upgrades to its Google Docs hosted productivity app suite with a clear goal of taking a piece out of Microsoft's dominance over productivity apps.

Could  Google really take Microsoft Office's 80 percent enterprise market share down a peg or two? Apparently, the first step along that path is a mea culpa. Dave Girouard, president of Google's Enterprise unit, says that in one year's time, Google Docs "will be night and day from what [it is] today." In true Google fashion, Girouard is reluctant to provide details as to exactly what upgrades to expect, but the main thrust of his statement is that in order to be a truly viable alternative to Office, Docs needs to provide a better user experience. Improve the product, and Google improves its market share, at least in theory.

[ Read InfoWorld's comparative review of Google Docs, Lotus Symphony, OpenOffice, and Zoho, or view the "Office killers" slide show. ]

The wild cards in play here that could favor Google are the economic downturn and the upcoming Microsoft Office 2010. Economic conditions being what they are, companies are looking to cut costs, and when Microsoft rolls out Office 2010, some companies may opt to go with the cheaper (or even free) Google offering instead of re-upping with Microsoft.

Girouard says that a large enterprise (10,000 or more end-users) migrates to Google Docs "every few weeks." He believes that as Docs improves -- and as people become more comfortable with the hosted software model -- he will see more frequent migrations.

"We can be a first-tier player in IT," Girouard said. A more attractive Google Docs offering would go a long way toward making that statement a reality.

Copyright © 2009 IDG Communications, Inc.