Office 2.0 is in the news today, with a conference of the same name going on in Silicon Valley. Google has announced Google Docs and Spreadsheets, and Zoho has announced its Virtual Office. Feature comparisons aside, I think the real story is free online collaboration, which is the next battlefield.
Google Docs and Spreadsheets combines Writely and Google Spreadsheets together into one simple user interface. This makes a lot of sense and follows the tradition that Microsoft started with Office 10 or 15 years ago. Google has added a few more features to each product but the new UI is the main improvement. Google clearly has its sights set on Microsoft Office users, but they are approaching the problem from a different angle. Google knows that on a feature comparison basis there is no contest...Microsoft Office wins. So, they are using a business model (FREE) and a new user paradigm (online collaboration) to compete. Good move.
ZOHO Virtual Office is a new integrated version of several of their existing office productivity applications. Zoho has just about everything; spreadsheet, word processor, graphics, projects, Planner, Chat, CRM, etc., and more coming.
Zoho is available free to end users, and reportedly will charge $9 per user for Small & Medium Business (SMB).
FREE is not the problem - Microsoft Office has competed against free products for years. That is no problem. OpenOffice, StarOffice, and a host of other free office productivity suites have been around for a long time. Microsoft Office is still the popular choice for business users.
The battlefield has changed - In a fight between an alligator and a grizzly bear, the terrain determines the victor.
Google and Zoho are moving the battle away from the desktop to online collaboration. Users want to have one source document that anyone can update in real-time. The "wiki style" collaboration applied to documents, spreadsheets, and presentations.
This is the obvious weakness of a desktop client application like Microsoft Office. Microsoft recognizes this and is making improvements. Groove Networks, now part of Microsoft, is all about online collaboration. Ray Ozzie is pushing Windows/Office Live as the glue in the Client/Server/Services model of blended services.
Steve Ballmer says Windows Live is the most important initiative at Microsoft. Listen to these quotes from an eWeek interview with Steve Ballmer; "We're in a transition to software that is live. It will be click to run, like a Web site," said Ballmer. "We believe in evolving to click to run."
Windows Live is a growing collection of service add-ons for Windows. Some of the services are shipping, such as Windows Live Messenger and Windows Live Expo online classifieds. Nearly a dozen services are currently in beta test on the Windows Live Ideas Web site.
"The most important thing is the Live platform. The next level of consumerization is coming from Internet services and Internet delivery,"
There will be security concerns and scalability issues with the new online collaboration model. But, there is no doubt that a segment of the market wants to work this way. We are in the early stages of this evolution. The new winners and losers will not be known for several years. One sure winner in all of this is the customer. Competition is a great thing.