The New York Times shouts "Google goes after Microsoft again" by distributing Sun's StarOffice for free in Google Pack. Mary Jo Foley says "At long last, it looks like Microsoft Office, with its 90+ percent market share, may get some serious competition." Dan Farber at ZDNet has a more balanced reaction saying "Over a decade, OpenOffice/StarOffice has not challenged Microsoft’s supremacy, and a free, unsupported version from Google won’t have much impact."
What has changed? Star Office has been around for 8 years and has gained no traction. Sun even made it available for free as open source in the form of OpenOffice. That was 7 years ago. Google will be distributing the same StarOffice that Sun now sells for $70, and OpenOffice distributes for free. Oh, BTW, StarOffice is a 200Mb download...or more depending on your OS.
Microsoft is not standing still. Microsoft Office 2007 is an amazingly powerful product. Microsoft Office is the gold standard for word processing (Word), spreadsheets (Excel), presentations (Powerpoint), and personal databases (Access). The applications work together seamlessly (XML) and the user interfaces are very similar and easy to use. Microsoft Word supports all the popular file formats including save as PDF, OpenXML, and even a plugin for ODF. The new Office 2007 User Interface presents all the features you need in a ribbon format, no more drop down menus.
Microsoft Works is another alternative. It is a fully functional office suite that has shipped on home edition personal computers for years. Works compares favorably with Google Docs or any of the new Web 2.0 office competitors. Microsoft is now experimenting with a free (advertising supported) version of Microsoft Works.
Software + Services - Microsoft has been working hard to leverage the best of client software and web based services into one seamless user experience. Users want to take advantage of the computing power on the desktop for compute intensive tasks like creating large documents and spreadsheets, multimedia presentations, and video editing. There are other times when you want a more lightweight, collaborative, and interactive environment where a web browser is a better choice. Why not create on the desktop and share on the web? Why not collaborate and edit documents on the web and save the changes back to your desktop? Creating a great user experience that is intuitive yet powerful, available online and offline, and synchronized across all domains, is the goal of Software + Services. There is lots of work left to do, but that is the direction.