The Death Of Online Office Suites Is Greatly Exaggerated

from the not-dead-yet! dept

There's a ton of buzz going around over a new study, saying that only a small percentage of people even know what Google Docs is, with an even smaller subsection actually using it. Some are interpreting this to mean that web-based office suites are DOA, and that Microsoft's Office suite has things perfectly under control. While I agree that Microsoft Office isn't going anywhere for a long, long time, it's way too early to write off online (or alternative) office suites. Many of them are just getting started and are still missing some important and useful features -- but they're catching up quickly, and some are actually surpassing Microsoft Office in terms of some of the useful features (especially concerning collaboration).

There's also an important point that seems to have been missed in many of these discussions. The use of office apps are tied to two things: your employer and your upgrade cycle. If your employer requires you to use Microsoft Office, that's what you're going to use -- and companies will take their time shifting away from the known quantity. However, that doesn't mean they'll always be that way. Times change and so do the standard office IT configurations. More importantly, however, is the upgrade cycle. Most people get their office suite with their computer -- so any change only takes place every few years when they get a new computer. So, testing out new products will tend to have a delay. For example, two computers ago, I tried to use Open Office rather than Microsoft Office, but it wasn't quite up to the quality I needed, so I did end up getting Microsoft Office. However, earlier this year when I bought a new computer, I did not get Microsoft Office, and instead have relied on a combination of Open Office, Google Docs, Zoho and Thinkfree, depending on the situation. Give it a few more upgrade cycles, and enough publicity, and you can bet that unless Microsoft does something to compete with these alternatives, the numbers in a study like this one will start to change drastically. There will always be some lag, and Microsoft could do nothing and milk the Office cow for a long, long time. But, it's absolutely wrong to count the alternative providers out at this point in the game.

Reader Comments (rss)

(Flattened / Threaded)

  1. identicon
    Wayne Schulz, Dec 19th, 2007 @ 4:54am

    You're overlooking the single most important Micro

    I see nobody talking about the true Microsoft Office killer.

    We're all too busy studying "employer provided this" and "IT department mandates" that. "Compatible file formats". Blah.

    Rearranging deck chairs on the Titanic.

    You see, the Microsoft Office Killer is yet to enter the work force.

    In my house she's a 3rd grader who badly needs spell check and has trouble using the computer by herself. It's not always going to be that way though. This should scare Microsoft.

    She's a GMAIL user. Soon a Google Apps user. And why shouldn't she use a free tool that let's her save documents online, eliminates the "where'd I save that" frustration. She can get her apps from home. From school. From the library. From a friend's house. From her mother's house. Anywhere. All free. (Note: Don't you think soon the schools will pick up on this FREE suite of apps that is more than what most students need?)

    What's Microsoft got to show? Some bloated tool (anyone try downloading Office Online only to find that it's a fat bloated download-required hokey link from your desktop to online) that takes forever to install and requires a setup to your PC. Microsoft hasn't been paying attention - and just like Palm - eventually Microsoft is going to wake up to a new day where they are not the dominant player.

    I predict that this 3rd grader will quickly master the world of online applications. She'll move up through the education system and come out into the job market. Then maybe she'll be in charge of setting the standards for her company's software use.

    Only this time instead of being burdened by our old outdated paradigms she'll be totally open to the world of online office suites.

    This is my vision of how Microsoft will be overthrown. They just don't "get it" and their feeble attempt at an online office suite is both laughable and sad. It's truly the beginning of the end.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  2. identicon
    Just Me, Dec 19th, 2007 @ 5:35am


    While I agree with most of what you said regarding the future of the IT workspace I don't think we can be too quick to dismiss M$ just yet.
    They have fallen behind the curve and don't 'get it' as you said. But even given your forecast you're talking more than a decade from now. Who's to say what M$ will come out with in the next few years.

    Sure they haven't figured out that people want free and lightweight (or fully online) apps just yet, or they haven't found a way to do it right just yet, but this doesn't mean they aren't going to.

    Personally I would love to see a viable free alternative to M$ but for my office Google just doesn't cut it...yet.

    Next year - who knows? Maybe Google will make a better fit, maybe M$ will. But to say that either of them will be "overthrown" seems a bit presumptuous at best.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  3. identicon
    IT Tech, Dec 19th, 2007 @ 5:39am


    The thing that online doc providers fail to provide is the security major corp. and good IT personnel seek. Not, saying they are not secure, just that the company looses control over the data. No good IT personnel will allow the company's data to be stored on any server other than their own. As far as the third grader who is growing up using online doc's will only have an effect on what is used in a corporation if they are in the position to do so.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  4. identicon
    Learning from my kids, Dec 19th, 2007 @ 5:47am

    Re: You're overlooking the single most important M

    I couldn't agree with your assessment more. My children have little experience with the standard desktop suite because they do nearly everything on the web. From their perspective web apps is the norm and the desktop is 'old school'. In the vernacular of my eldest son, "Windoze apps are the suck, Dad".

    I've become a convert as well. I recently started a new job and one of my first assignments was to coordinate the development of a series of internal white papers. The company wanted to buy SharePoint for library control and collaboration. I convinced them to try GoogleApps and to start an internal Wiki. Now I have a team of converts who are vocal advocates of abandoning MS Office as the standard 'desktop' and go 'webtop'.

    I no longer use MS Office at home. I use a combination of OpenOffice and GoogleApps. I've convinced a number of friends and colleagues to do the same.

    The world is slowly realizing there are alternative to M$ Office.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  5. identicon
    Mark Evans, Dec 19th, 2007 @ 7:11am

    Office Suites

    I agree. One thing that seems to have been lost in the survey results is people are using online office suites in different ways than MS Office. For now, online suites are great ways to collaborate and keep documents in a place where you can access them from anywhere. Over time, I think their usefulness will increase as people become more comfortable using them, new features are added and the players such as Google and Zoho gain more of a market profile.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  6. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Dec 19th, 2007 @ 7:20am

    Online Office in Beta

    Office hasn't been laying still as more apps move online. See the recently added online workspace in development by Microsoft: which offers the convienence of shared online office documents.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  7. identicon
    James, Dec 19th, 2007 @ 7:29am

    I see the Microsoft haters are trolling..

    ..amazing that anyone can't use at least some sound judgement in your dislike for Microsoft, but no, if its Microsoft it must be evil.

    Regardless of your own personal bias towards them, they won for a reason; they provided the best product.

    The more companies that used them, the more other companies wanted and needed to use them perputating it. If someone offers a more compelling product at the same or a better price then perhaps they will get some real competition.

    Current offerings are not real competition; OpenOffice "maybe" being the closest thing to a real competitor (and mainly because its free). Businesses must have consistent, usable solutions that everyone from the interns to the CEO can use and easily. For the most part Microsoft Office fills that role and allows them to be easily compatible (format-wise) with all of their business partners.

    Does this mean that Microsoft will win forever or always have the best solution? Not necessarily but don't criticize simply because you don't like them. They won, get over it.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  8. identicon
    Jason Still, Dec 19th, 2007 @ 7:37am

    Re: I see the Microsoft haters are trolling..

    I think declaring Microsoft, or anyone else, "the winner" is a bit premature. You might say they are "winning" but to say they "won" is to discount all the other options that exist. There are other options besides MS products, many people use them, many of them work quite well and even interoperate quite nicely with the MS products. The day MS "wins" is the day we, the users, lose because we no longer have a choice.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  9. identicon
    Brent, Dec 19th, 2007 @ 7:44am


    I, personally, have used Google Apps because of the ease of sharing with my peers. I also routinely use MS apps on my windows based computer. Online apps are fairly new and it is way too early to count them out.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  10. identicon
    augustus, Dec 19th, 2007 @ 7:52am

    My 2 cents

    I think the shift will happen when PCs become much lower in prices and the cost of MS Office or Windows will be a large percentage of the PC price. At that point consumers will rethink paying for MS.


    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  11. identicon
    Just Me, Dec 19th, 2007 @ 7:58am


    You mean like a $350 Operating System that people are "upgrading" back to the previous version from?

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  12. identicon
    Jason Still, Dec 19th, 2007 @ 8:04am

    Re: My 2 cents

    Newegg has Office 2007 retail for $389.99
    They have Vista Home Premium Retail for 219.99
    They also have at least 19 sub-$400 desktop systems capable of running both

    I think we've definitely reached the point where the software/hardware cost ratio should be making alternatives more appealing

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  13. identicon
    Harry, Dec 19th, 2007 @ 8:21am

    Office suites are dinosaurs

    I don't understand the office suite sub-culture. After all, it's nucleus is simply a glorified text editor. Take that away and the whole office suite collapses. To me, they are all useless 'do-nothing' applications that should have died a natural death a decade ago. Even back ten years ago they were so bloated that nobody ever used even a fraction of their features. Once everyone figures out that they can get along quite well without them, it won't matter who is winning or losing because nobody will be using them anymore.

    And as for backward compatibility, I don't think it is wise to trust any proprietary software maker on that account. If all your company's records are in a proprietary format, you have just been hijacked into forever upgrading with that one company. What could be worse?

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  14. identicon
    Richard H. Wiebe, Dec 19th, 2007 @ 8:22am

    Web connection plays a part

    In a "high security" environment like ours, a major role is played by HORRIBLY SLOW and drastically filtered access to the Web. When an app takes a coffee-break equivalent just to start up the users give up and go to the locally installed bloat - regardless of quality - and the price is the company's problem (users do not see how expensive software means that their monthly $income$ is less!)
    When EVERYBODY has access to good, clean, fast and reliable Web, we may see a real move.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  15. identicon
    K Gorman, Dec 19th, 2007 @ 8:54am

    On-Line Office Suites

    As a technology teacher, I am moving away from having students turn in Word or PowerPoint files to having them turn in word processing / presentation files. As long as they understand the basics (MLA formatting - research and documentation - number crunching - presenting before an audience) who care what the application is?

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  16. identicon
    TheDoc, Dec 19th, 2007 @ 9:03am

    I won't be using google apps

    No way will I ever use Google apps to record/store my personal or company documents. (that includes gmail) It's a corporation, why in the world would you trust them with such data?

    I assume other Companies are going to wake up and think of this too. You aren't allowed to share company data with anyone now, why is Google different?

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  17. identicon
    Rose M. Welch, Dec 19th, 2007 @ 10:17am

    I tried OpenOffice and it simply did not have the features that I need. I do recommend it to people who can't afford Office, but I'm not going to use it anytime soon. Why should I? I already have it, I've been using it for years and am very good with it. And I have this beautiful thumb drive that lets me take those documents anywhere.

    My wireless Internet is not always the speed demon that I wish it were, and I don't see any reason for more on-line applications just because some people think that Microsoft is the devil. Furthermore, even if Microsofty is the devil, it wouldn't mater because most people see the Internet as a dangerous area where things get 'hacked' and where computers catch 'viruses' and even need 'patches'. My boss said to me yesterday. 'Why does the computer need a 'patch'? Did it get one of those 'alienwares'?' He meant spyware.

    And I'm paranoid enough to know that a document with sensitive information is much safer on my flash drive then on the Internet, as long as I'm not an idiot and I use an excrypted thumb drive and don't lose it anywhere like government employees with laptops. So, anyway... That's just my two cents...

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  18. identicon
    Tin Ear, Dec 19th, 2007 @ 10:27am

    Just can't be arsed...

    I bought a new computer a bit under two years ago. It came with Windows XP Media Center Edition. It also came with a "Trial Version" of the Microsoft Office apps.
    I have used M/O in the past, I understand how they work and how to use them. I was fairly annoyed that they didn't come complete with my new computer. Why should I pay again for something that came with my Windows? Grrr...
    I signed up for Google Apps and have found that it can handle my office needs adequately. Now I just need to purge my computer of the bloat of what remains of M/O...

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  19. identicon
    Duodave, Dec 19th, 2007 @ 11:46am

    We use Google Docs a lot...

    At my company, most of our web production staff works from home, and we use Google Docs to post advertising schedules to a spreadsheet that can be edited by the marketing staff and viewed by the web production staff so we can see what ads to place in any given time frame.

    Google Docs is a very cost-effective way to share documents that require editing by a number of people, without worrying about multiple copies that don't match.

    Also, my fiance and I are using Google docs to keep track of wedding notes, such as guest lists, so we can see the same files from any of our computers.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  20. identicon
    Shun, Dec 19th, 2007 @ 12:37pm

    What are the real concerns with web-based office?

    I can understand the anti-Microsoft appeal in some of these flavors of network applications. Sure, you save a lot of hard drive space by offloading the service to the web. You lose security, though. Now, for some folks, that's ok, because you were just typing out that letter to the editor, or you just needed to calculate the square root of pi. Whatever. For people within companies, who have a genuine IT staff, I think the answer would be obvious.

    Bring the application into the corporate network.

    What I can't understand is this argument. "The security issues involved in putting all of our documents on-line is too great. We need to get M$ Windows and M$ Office". Huh? Like these two together aren't a security nightmare. Someone (by now) should be offering an Office Suite that you can run on a company server, which hosts all the documents, while the application runs across a web interface. You can either log in separately to the Office Suite Network, or have your "domain" login do it for you, although somehow the idea of setting this up on a Windows 2000 or 2003 server does not sit right with me.

    If this hasn't been done already, I smell a golden business opportunity. It would make a pretty good sourceforge project, and even a hefty project for graduate students. Contrast the utility of this with CounterStrike and WoW.

    Anyway, just throwing this idea out there. Pay no attention if this is already out in the wild. Quite frankly, I can't believe Google is not offering people this option (Hey, consultancy fees!). You could even include file-level public key encryption, if you were paranoid about Google stealing your documents.

    I can understand people not being happy with Google. I just don't understand the answer: more M$.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  21. icon
    chris (profile), Dec 19th, 2007 @ 12:52pm

    use the right tool for the job

    google docs has it's place. plus it's free to use, so there is no risk involved in trying it out.

    as for the security... well there is no security in any office suite.

    truly secure systems are always inconvenient to use. truly convenient systems are always insecure. it's a universal law, regular as gravity.

    MS office is not now, nor has it ever been secure. it is less insecure now than it has ever been, but it is not secure. many of the coolest features in MS office, like macros, vb script for applications, even embedded images have introduced new vulnerabilities into office. once you disable all that stuff, you basically have the google word processor. the only "security" that you have with ms office is the false sense that big brands and big corporations instill in pointy haired bosses.

    storing documents locally on your harddrive is like keeping important mail in the mailbox at your house... sure it's on your property and you know where it is at all times, but is it really safe? putting them on a thumbdrive is even less secure since those are easy to lose or steal. they're convenient as hell, but sooo insecure.

    on the other hand, it's tough to leave google docs in your pocket and have it go thru the washing machine... but it's super easy to do with a thumb drive.

    as for google docs vs. office, the word processor is fairly nice. i'd put it on par with the original word for windows or maybe word 95. it does the top 20% of what you would expect from a word processor (no mail merges, labels or envelopes) i use it for class notes since i work on a number of different computers (work, school, home) and platforms (windows, mac, linux) over the course of a day. i take notes in a text editor (editpad or gedit) and import them to google docs.

    the presentation tool in google docs is waaaay behind the word processor. you can only import from powerpoint, and you can only export to this html format that creates a directory of your presentation with css files and stuff. it's great if you are publishing to the web, but other than that, it's useless for sharing. google's word processor has excellent import and export options.

    google docs crashes firefox a lot compared to locally installed ms word. i am sure google will fix this in time, but for now it's an easy to use (insecure) document repository with editing capabilities.

    it should be mentioned that despite the crashes, the auto save feature in google docs prevents all but the tiniest losses of data since it auto saves your stuff like every 30 seconds or so. can't say that about office 2003, i've seen it eat many a spreadsheet or document since the autosave feature is disabled by default. never used the spreadsheet app in google docs, so i couldn't tell you anything about it, and i rarely use excel.

    open office is a good compromise, most of the reliability of word with most of the platform support you would find in google docs, with the unfortunate need to save everything to USB thumb drives (talk about insecure).

    you have to download and install OOo on any non-linux machine you use. the windows version is 120mb and the installer takes like a half hour to install once downloaded. the mac version requires the xfree86 extensions, which is great if you carry your tiger/leopard CD with you, but otherwise you are out of luck.

    so, if you move around a lot, only use the top 20% of the features in word, and don't give many presentations, then google docs is fine, and you can always keep ms office around for the heavy lifting.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  22. identicon
    kalivd, Jan 30th, 2008 @ 11:14pm

    online office suites

    With so many online office suites in the market right now like Thinkfree,Zoho, eDeskOnline, it definately poses a threat to Microsoft as it is already a bit late in launching their Online OS, though some people will definately prefer MS over others there are several people who wouldn't mind using another product over MS. for an instance myself i have started using an Online Office Suite called eDeskOnline which is far satisfying than any other product similar to that in the market, Guess you should try it.

    eDeskOnline Demo

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  23. identicon
    kalivd, Jan 30th, 2008 @ 11:18pm

    online office suites

    With so many online office suites in the market right now like Thinkfree,Zoho, eDeskOnline, it definately poses a threat to Microsoft as it is already a bit late in launching their Online OS, though some people will definately prefer MS over others there are several people who wouldn't mind using another product over MS. for an instance myself i have started using an Online Office Suite called eDeskOnline which is far satisfying than any other product similar to that in the market, Guess you should try it.

    eDeskOnline Demo

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  24. identicon
    kalivd, Jan 30th, 2008 @ 11:21pm

    online office suites

    With so many online office suites in the market right now like Thinkfree,Zoho, eDeskOnline, it definately poses a threat to Microsoft as it is already a bit late in launching their Online OS, though some people will definately prefer MS over others there are several people who wouldn't mind using another product over MS. for an instance myself i have started using an Online Office Suite called eDeskOnline which is far satisfying than any other product similar to that in the market, Guess you should try it.

    eDeskOnline Demo

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

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