The Office Wars intensify as Google brings Windows apps to Chromebook

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The most  recent dust-up between Google and Microsoft for the future of the desktop is a new partnership between Google and VMWare to allow Chromebook users — by bridging Chrome OS in the netbook to VMWare’s cloud services — to gain what they call Desktop-as-a-Service. The timing of the announcement is clearly intended to coincide with the near-term end-of-life of Windows XP.

As Google’s Director of Product Management for Chrome, Rajen Sheth, put it,

As the countdown to Windows XP end of life continues, deploying Chromebooks and taking advantage of a DaaS environment ensures that security vulnerabilities, application compatibility and migration budgets will be a thing of the past.

VMware Horizon DaaS enables customers to centralize other desktop environments and manage these as a cloud service. Initially available to customers as an on-premise service or by VMWare vCloud Service Provider Partners (VSPPs) offering DaaS in the cloud or within hybrid deployments. Users will be able to access their Windows applications, data and desktops using VMware’s Blast HTML5 technology to their Chromebook.

This technology is available now by bringing together VMware Horizon View 5.3 and Chromebooks as an on-premise service and will be available soon as an application that can be installed from the Chrome Web Store.

This is similar to the Amazon Workspaces offering for Kindle (see Amazon announces WorkSpaces, and shifts Kindle into business tool), and the OnLive Desktop for iPad (see Why the “PC” you buy in 3 years won’t be a PC).

So the trend here is toward a transition from Microsoft office (‘productivity’) apps formerly running on desktop PCs on Windows XP, 7, or (shudder) 8. Companies are stuck because they have

  1. large repositories of existing documents in these formats,
  2. elaborate workflows around producing documents using them,
  3. staff that are familiar or expert in their use,
  4. and no real alternative that has yet emerged to Word, Powerpoint, and Excel.

Yes, Google and Apple have viable alternatives to the office troika, by they are simply substitutes, not a redefinition of a new way of work with something other than Office documents. That may be coming, but it’s not here yet. And my bet is that the alternative will rise from the inconveniences of solutions like Google’s partnership with VMWare, or Amazon’s Workspaces.

Google and Apple have increased the pressure on Microsoft by making their alternative to Office tools free, but offering a corporation a way to scale up access to Windows apps on Chromebooks — which were 21% of Us commercial laptop sales in 2013 — is yet another flanking manoeuvre, undermining Microsoft’s Surface strategy: trying to sell Windows tablets by making sure they are the best place to work on Office documents.