Microsoft vs. Google (Again)

Yesterday everybody was talking about Google Apps For Your Domain. Google’s new collaboration service that ties together Gmail, Gtalk, Calendar and Google Page Creator. Many observers, along with Google itself are quick to point out that this is not a competitor to Microsoft Office. People are framing it as a complement to the Ofifice suite that brings the power of collaboration to the platform.

Of course, while it may not compete with today’s iteration of Office, it’s clear that both companies are headed down a similar path. Microsoft’s Office Live and other Live offerings attempt to bring the centralized, collaborative benefits of Live to Office.
While Office is great, it’s still a pain to pass around documents through email for revision and editing. It’s still a pain to set up your own Exchange server for small businesses. It’s still a pain to make files centrally available. So the need to elevate Office from isolated desktop platform to a more centralized collaborative platform is clearly there.
As I read over the details around Google’s offering, I can’t help but think how hokey the whole thing is. Enteprises live inside of Microsoft’s Office platform, especially Outlook. The idea of somehow mashing together Google with Office is is going to be difficult for a lot of people to stomach…or even bother with.
This battle is for Microsoft to lose. This is not about technology or who can house the largest data center to run all this stuff. We all know that both companies have the will and the means to do that. The winner here is going to be the one that makes this happen for end-users in a seamless fashion.
Microsoft has it all wrong with Sharepoint. Why? Because it’s a destination. Nobody wants to go elsewhere to handle their stuff. They live in Office and they want to stay there. Google is going to face a similar problem. Users don’t want more web URL’s. They will only tolerate a slight shift within their current work environments. What this means is that Microsoft needs to augment Office in a subtle, unobtrusive way and simply “turn on” these capabilities. If they do that, Google doesn’t have a shot.
Microsoft’s biggest enemy is Microsoft. Their culture isn’t about subtle augmentation. It’s about caking on shrink-wrapped products on top of products. They already have the eyes. Everybody uses Office. Everybody uses Outlook.The spies have alread infiltrated. Why send in more spies in the form of Sharepoint or the absolutely confusing Live platform (is it Office Live? Or just Live?).
Microsoft’s DNA is about product offerings: PRODUCT NAME – YEAR. Outlook 2003. Sharepoint 2007. SQL Server 2005. They build software. Price it. Sell it. You install it. Configure it…and then hope your users will adopt it. If Microsoft keeps ignoring that their hooks are already in, that will be Google’s opening.
Microsoft can learn a hell of a lot from Apple’s success. Apple’s products are secondary to the overall experience. The iPod/iTunes synergy is a clear example of this. Apple attacked all the problems with an entire platform rather than bolt-on products here and there. Buying music. Organizing music. Making music portable. The goals override the “pieces” that help you get there. Microsoft already owns the experience today and they need to leverage it. Google is aiming at the shortcomings of the Office sweet from across the ocean. It’s a bold move but Google’s got the right culture, right now, to make a serious attack.
A final thought, I don’t buy the “this isn’t a Microsoft Office competitor” line for one bit. These applications are getting richer and more powerful, through good’ol Javascript & AJAX by the day. They’re going to keep getting better. This isn’t Google just making the world better. It’s a stealth move that is exploiting a weakness in the current platform to sneak into the workflow. Once in, all bets are off.

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