Web Office Vs Microsoft Office

32 Comments

Talk about being overcrowded…. there are 17 different web-office upstarts that are trying to take on Microsoft Office, reports The Red Herring. Joe Wilcox, an analyst with JupiterResearch explains that since people want to work anywhere, and want access to the data from anywhere, it is no surprise so many players are trying different things. “Microsoft has kept the Office software as is. They are thinking, ‘when you’ve got a good thing going, why mess with it?’,” he tells the magazine. Liam Breck is not buying into the hype around Web Office, and argues that it is a tiny niche. Jason Fried, one of the co-founders of 37Signals offers a more coherent and more balanced answer, when he tells RH, “The modern office is more about real-time collaboration and group chat, and not just a spreadsheet and processor.” I agree – Web Office should not be about replacing the old, but inventing the new web apps that solve some specific problems.

32 Comments

Liam @ Web 2.5 Blog

I’m not a cynic so much as a grizzled vet of the ASP wars. I co-founded a startup that was funded to provide online/onsite infrastructure for web ASPs, just like the ones now calling themselves Office 2.0. The market dried up as we were developing it, and the company changed tack.

There’s no shortage of business users who need better info-tools, but server-based solutions (online or intranet) can’t reach them. They do not spread virally, and are frequently shot down by management or IT, for the reasons discussed in my post.

If the web is going to succeed in this market, it will be on a different architecture. That is what my blog is all about.

David Tebbutt

Ooh. You cynic you.

But I know what you mean.

There have been some notable ‘real’ early adopters of stuff. But not many who are prepared to admit to it. This is why we keep hearing the same old (established corporations’) names in case studies and conference presentations.

David Tebbutt

Liam: if you drill down into the Office 2.0 site you find the audience is listed as “Office 2.0 Companies, Early Adopters, Investors, Analysts, Journalists”

Scott

Until they do add writely and spreadsheets, it’s a lot of hype with no substance. Even then, having to be online to do work and having google catalog it all are losers IMO.

Sim @ HighContrast

The end goal should be to create a great user experience regardless of where the user is and what their connectivity is. The Web office suites leave a lot to be desired in terms of UE (user experience) richness and offline capabilities. The desktop suites are >50% fatware and lock the data to a piece of hardware. Both are highly sub-optimal and need to change. More on my blog under the SaaS category.

Deepak

Open standards are a must. In a field closer to home for me, Microsoft is apparently (I don’t know the details) involved with trying to develop semantic technologies for information interchange of data as part of their next document standards. While I laud that part, I am not sure if the actual document standard itself will be portable and open. The lack of round-tripping for the OpenDocument standard certainly does not bode well.

One aspect of document sharing and collaboration that does not get sufficient attention is context. Historically, documents all look the same, regardless of context (not the kind of templates that Word suggests). The W3C is spending time looking at this issue. I wonder if anyone else is?

eddie

It is true that Jason is biased due to his stake in 37Signals. But Jason forgets that not all collaboration is real-time (quite a bit of it is asynchronous).

It is true that networks can go dark. It is also true that the world has no choice but to further collaborate due to the need for interdependence (as much as nations like the U.S. think they can operate independently). But look folks, there is no indication that basic word processing needs are going to vanish. Desktop apps are not going to vanish either (come on folks, what about user experience as Apple knows so well).

There can be no doubt that the blend is what is needed (both Desktop apps and Network apps) which interoperate based on open protocols. What surprised the hell out of me is that not Om nor any of the commenters mentioned the OpenDocument open format. If desktop office apps were not needed, then we might as well throw OpenOffice into the bit bucket, right? Come on people, start thinking for yourselves instead of having other people think for you. In the end there can be no other way than going with open protcols, open formats, open standards for true global collaboration. Microsoft really doesn’t have much of a choice in this regard as can be seen by their behavior (e.g., recently adding a plugin to the next version of Office to handle OpenDocument although that plugin does not offer round tripping — the bastards!)

Alex Hutton

I really don’t think you need to do anything more with a competitive office suite than think – boy why do I hate this and how can I change it.

Not to sound like a fanboy, but I recently invested the extra 30 minutes to “learn” Pages and Keynote. I’m very glad I did. I absolutely hate having to launch Word or Powerpoint now.

There are many reasons for this, but I’ll stress two:

1.) In Pages, when I am laying out a document, 99% of the time the application behaves as I expect it. I don’t have to use all the small “workarounds” that I’ve grown accustom to needing in Word. It’s a relief to use an application that doesn’t seem to have years of baggage clinging to it.

2.) Keynote layout and screen views are almost always similar. I find myself in Powerpoint many times having to author a slide, and then reviewing it once or twice in slideshow mode to make sure it’s laid out correctly.

I’ll also quickly note that Word and Powerpoint export work really, really well.

Now neither app. is as “feature rich” as Microsoft Office. I’m missing a couple of features tha are really nice – but I have 98% of the features I need.

Liam @ Web 2.5 Blog

“vendors, investors, industry analysts, and journalists”

Bubble events do tend to exclude one insignificant constituency…

CUSTOMERS

[just teasing]

David Tebbutt

I should have mentioned the target audience for the Office 2.0 conference: “vendors, investors, industry analysts, and journalists”

David Tebbutt

There’s a conference/workshop called Office 2.0 taking place in San Francisco on October 11/12. It seems to me to be for people who want to discover where office apps are headed (and it’s a heck of a lot more than replicating existing desktop functions) and engage with some smart people who are thinking about this stuff all the time.

http://www.office20con.com/

Are you going Om?

Skeptic

The fundamental problem here is this: MS Office works well enough for most people to do their jobs well most of the time. Which basically rules out the ‘better mousetrap’ theory for Web 2.0 office applications. All that’s left then is ‘new stuff’, in which case you run into the problem of companies whose entire purpose is building features, not businesses.

I love Plaxo. Makes my contact management easier. Will MS do it themselves? Dunno, seems like they could, and easily. Can the company survive? Dunno, seems problematic. And they are one of the VERY few Web 2.0 office services that actually have mass appeal.

Liam – nice job.

Jonathan Crow

Full disclosure, I work for one of the 17 companies working on an online office. So, I may have a bit of a bias;).

I agree that online office suites can’t just simply copy the existing functionality of the current standard. But as Jeff points out, this has to be the starting point.

To really make an online suite useful to enterprise companies you have to make it compatible with the desktop office suite most people are using. This means that you have to, to a certain extent, mimic the desktop applications. Otherwise, a) you don’t get to bring all of the already created information, data, and documents into this brave new world, and b) you aren’t able to work and play well with others.

But, yes you also have to get creative. You have to mash-up with some of the great sites out there to do things that would be difficult to do in the offline world. If you are not taking advantage of the primary benefits of the internet then why bother?

As far as the online/offline argument, I agree with Liam, why make people choose? But, as to the question of whether this is a niche or not, Joe Wilcox at JupiterResearch (http://www.microsoftmonitor.com/archives/016613.html) says that “6 percent of businesses with 100 or employees use a hosted productivity suite like,” well, our company. Extrapolated to the online space and taking into consideration that Microsoft revenues from Office are somewhere between the $10-15B/year, it is a niche I don’t mind being in.

Rick

Google has just announced a Business Apps suite of e-mail, GTalk, IM, and calendar applications for businesses. This is awesome as I have never liked MS Outlook and calendaring.

Jeff Nolan

Wasn’t the original purpose of an office app “suite” to provide richly integrated work streams (templates) instead of simply just the individual applications? If that’s the case, then is would indeed be a rich irony if office 2.0 upset the MSOffice cart. I don’t think any of these companies intend to simply replicate what Word or Excel offers, but that is an essential starting point before the higher value collaborative functions can be realized.

On the connected/disconnected topic, this is less of a barrier more of a speed bump. Someone will figure out how to do local caching and sync and this will become a non-issue.

James Weirick

I have to agree with the idea that online office suites don’t need to copy Office, they need to innovate it out of existence.

Liam @ Web 2.5 Blog

To Jason’s argument, it’s a big question-mark whether real-time content collaboration is a widespread need. Typically, each user’s piece of a project doesn’t overlap much with those of their collaborators, so people don’t edit docs together a lot. If it was a serious need, wouldn’t microsoft have met it years ago?

The issue of offline-online integration as well as service-to-service integration is key. Desktop apps can migrate to the web, but web apps can also migrate to the desktop (by employing a p2p architecture) which may result in more powerful solutions. For more on that, see the Web 2.5 blog…

Dennis Howlett

The online/offline argument is a technology blind. If the on premise network goes pear shaped, no-one’s collaborating, regardless of the need. If comms in one country are down, when someone wishes to access documents from another, same applies. That’s an infrastructure availability issue.

The online world isn’t just about collaboration, in many of the apps, it’s about delivering what the end user needs – 80% of the time. It’s about service. The online folk have no choice but to deliver 24×7 availability to earn their corn.

But above all, they’re about driving out process cost and driving in process efficiency. Anyone want to argue the goodness in that?

Sikosis

“Microsoft has kept the Office software as is. They are thinking, ‘when you’ve got a good thing going, why mess with it?’”

Problem is … Microsoft don’t think that. That’s why Office 2007 does away with what we’ve all come to know and introduces the ribbon. I had one look at a demo of Office 2007 and thought, no way are we getting that, I’d have to retrain ALL our staff.

Web Office has the advantage of being able to open or create a simple document on the fly when you aren’t in front of your full blown machine.

Nick Hawkins

I’m a doubter about online office suites. It doesn’t fit my business need. To be honest, I don’t require a large scale collaboration for most of the things I work on, and when I do, I have Sharepoint that I can reach anywhere via VPN and pull the document down myself, edit offline and then reupload to Sharepoint. I think Writely will be one of the few left standing mainly because of Google’s unlimited pile of cash.

Deepak

Rob .. You have a very good point about integrating web-based and client-based but again those focus on the medium rather than the need. In a world where people are not co-located, there is a strong need for new paradigms, whether those be document-based collaboration or interactive collaboration. The latter is an area where Microsoft should be leading the field (and to some extent it does)

rob

First, we need to take Jason’s comments with a grain of salt as he has a reason for saying that the modern office is built around chat and collab as that is, in essence, 37signals sole reason for existence.

Second, without the spreadsheet and word processing program the chat and collab in the web 2.0 office would be worthless…

A more interesting bent to the conversation is going to be around how we are going to get from the web based vs. client based conversation to a seemless intergration between both. This is critical as, for example, there is rather limited web access on a plane, on the boat, etc. A truly next gen solution will bridge that chasm and unfortunately for the 17 small fry battling that one out it’s MS’s pole position as they already own the “hard” side of that equation, the desktop client. It will be exponentially easier for MS to move to the web then for the web based apps to displace MS on the desktop.

r.

Deepak

Jason makes an excellent argument. The change is not in the medium, but in the paradigm. The medium, i.e. the web, just enables it.

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