Web Office Suites: Complementary and Coopetive Technologies

WebOffice_LogoMy recent post “5 Web Office Considerations: Beyond the Buzz” garnered some thought-provoking comments, which got me pondering on the proper place for the web office suite (whether it is ThinkFree, Zoho or Google Apps (s goog)) in today’s world.

As a technical writer by trade, I have fairly strong opinions as to how a web office suite can fit into the workflow of a team publishing moderately complex documents, spreadsheets, and presentations. I do believe that a web office suite and Microsoft Office (s msft) don’t have to be “natural enemies in the wild” and can coexist to offer web workers, their employers, and their clients the best possible document authoring, publishing and collaborative working solution.

This post is going to dive into some things web workers should consider in a mixed Microsoft Office/web office environment, and in environments where multiple web office suites are used.

Complementary Technologies: The 80/20 Rule

In my recent post, commenter Ray Stahl brought up the 80/20 rule, which says that 80 percent of an organization’s employees will have their needs met by a web office suite, while 20 percent of the employees (the “power users”) need full Microsoft Office licenses. Microsoft itself believes that this hybrid approach is likely to work in the future, with the desktop Office suite and its own Office Web Apps coexisting quite happily (although as Tom Reestman points out over on our subscription research site GigaOM Pro, its approach may actually be good for its web office competitors).

While each company’s needs will vary, the 80/20 rule seems like a reasonable rule of thumb. Microsoft Office licenses can be expensive, so only providing full Microsoft Office licenses to power users like technical writers and the accounting staff makes sense.

Web workers need to be aware with the 80/20 rule as it’s important that recipients can open documents without much fuss.

Here are some considerations:

  • Is the recipient using Microsoft Office? If, so what version?
  • Does the final deliverable require the advanced features of Microsoft Office? For example, does a spreadsheet rely on pivot tables or complex formulas?
  • Only use document templates that don’t lose formatting or have issues when opened in a web office suite. Ask where does the power user sit in the document publishing process? If they are the final publisher then you may also want them to take on the bulk of the template, table of contents generation, and other tasks that require advanced features only available in Microsoft Word.

Web Office Applications Coopetion

The web office productivity world is very competitive, but there is also the opportunity for coopetion when different vendors integrate their services with each other.

Take, for example, the recent update to Zoho Projects (Zoho Projects 2.0 was covered by Doriano last summer) that now includes integration with Google Apps. This latest update includes single sign-on, enabling users to login with their Google credentials; the ability to upload documents from Google Docs to Zoho Projects; view project milestones in Google Calendar including project milestones, tasks and meetings from your Zoho Projects; and an embeddable Zoho Projects gadget you can insert in iGoogle, Gmail and Google Sites.

Perhaps coopetion could even better serve web workers better than all-out competition between the web office suites and Microsoft Office, as companies could build robust online and desktop Office ecosystems, offering web workers more opportunities to have collaborative and publishing solutions that best serve their employers and clients.

Do you use multiple web office productivity tools in your organization?