Microsoft Takes Google Head On

David Tan
Microsoft this week is releasing the 2010 versions of its Office and SharePoint applications. Sure, there are a range of new and exciting features, but unlike previous Office versions, that is not where this launch is making the most noise. Microsoft's strategy for competing with Google and owning the cloud is coming more into focus, and that is where this release will make or break Microsoft's dominance on the office suite front.

First let's talk about the features. Three areas really catch my eye when we look at the enhancements to Office 2010: collaboration, business intelligence and social networking. Office 2010 really takes collaboration to the next level. Users can edit documents simultaneously, with changes being locked at the paragraph level in Word and at the slide level in PowerPoint. As changes are saved, the other authors get a note that updates are available, but it's very unobtrusive and flows naturally. One caveat to this is that the document must be stored on a SharePoint 2010 server.

And Microsoft continues to follow through on its commitment to bring business intelligence to every user in the organization. Sparklines and Slicers in Excel 2010 create entirely new, simple ways for any user to intelligently interpret and evaluate data. They are basically charting/graphing and PivotTables simplified and improved. I think the average user will have a lot more success working with these tools than anything they've had in the past. If you have more complex data-analysis needs, the new PowerPivot add-in for Excel makes it much easier to import and work with large amounts of SQL Server right inside Excel.

If you live and breathe e-mail like I do, the Outlook 2010 upgrade is a must-have. First off, the Ribbon Bar we got in Office 2007 is now in Outlook. Like it or not, it's here to stay. As a side note, all of Office 2010 includes the ability to customize the Ribbon Bar, which I think makes it much, much better. The first major issue Outlook 2010 tackles is e-mail overload. The conversation view, which was in previous versions, is greatly improved and really works well. With the click of a button, you can ignore entire e-mail threads that don't relate to you, or "clean up" a conversation, which gets rid of all the redundant messages within a message back and forth. It will take a little getting used to, but once you get it, you'll like it.

Social networking is focused in Outlook. The Outlook Social Connector is a window pane that sits at the bottom of all your messages. It connects to social-networking sites and shows you updates from your contacts. Microsoft is clearly trying to make the e-mail client the center of your online universe. At the moment, it only works with LinkedIn and MySpace, but Microsoft says a Facebook version is coming soon and likely Twitter as well.

Office 2010 also includes what Microsoft is calling Office Web Apps. These are Web browser-enabled versions of the key programs. There will be a number of ways users can get them. A free version for consumers will be available through the Windows Live SkyDrive service. Businesses can subscribe for a monthly fee through Microsoft Online Services. Lastly, any Microsoft customer can host his or her own version of Web Apps as part of purchase of SharePoint 2010.

So Microsoft is taking a three-pronged approach to competing with Google. The consumer version is free and it competes directly with Google Apps. Everything I have seen and heard suggests that this is a superior product, but I expect this will be an ongoing battle as each side releases new versions and features. 

Microsoft is giving businesses that need the Web applications the flexibility to deploy and manage them according to their need. Subscriptions work well for a business that doesn't want to own or manage IT. Just pay for it, use it and don't worry about it. This is similar to the corporate offerings from Google.

Where I think Microsoft steps up, however, is giving the business that wants to own the technology the ability to still enable Web-based users without the additional subscription cost. SharePoint 2010 on its own is a great product, and I mentioned previously how one of the key new features in Office requires SharePoint. Add to that the fact that SharePoint is probably Microsoft's fastest-selling product ever, and you have a nice install base. All these companies are getting the functionality for free basically. If not, maybe this helps drive SharePoint adoption even more, as this is the type of selling point that would likely put a company over the edge when making a decision.

Microsoft has chosen to attack Google on its own turf. The Office Web Apps offering targets exactly what Google has been doing for the past few years. When you add in the power of flexibility that Microsoft is giving customers by allowing them to own and host their own solutions, you really see an offering that Google can't compete with yet. There are about 500 million Office users compared to about 25 million for Google Apps, so Google will have its hands full. I'm looking forward to seeing how this is received, whether it's profitable for Microsoft and how Google responds.


Add Comment      Leave a comment on this blog post
Jul 16, 2010 12:07 PM CAMPANITA CAMPANITA  says:
hi, please please, need the code or key to active this program, thank`s a lot Reply
Feb 13, 2012 6:02 AM peter peter  says:
When it is chilling cold in the office I usually order strong coffee from the near by Hot Wok Cafe Reply

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