Web-Based Office Suites ? Ready For Prime Time?

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Irwin Lazar, Vice President & Service Director, Nemertes Research

July 13, 2007

2 Min Read

Last week Google announced it was buying Postini, a vendor in the e-mail security space.  Many have speculated that Google’s move was made with Microsoft in mind as Google grows its Google Apps into a credible challenger to Microsoft Office.  Is the time right for enterprises to seriously consider Google (and other web-based applications) as a realistic alternative to Microsoft Office?

Google isn’t the only vendor with a Web story to tell, ThinkFree also offers a web-based suite of collaboration and document creation applications.  Looking more specifically at the collaboration and shared-workspace arena, a number of startups such as Mindquarry, Foldera, and Convenos to name a few are offering web-based applications that compete with the likes of Microsoft SharePoint and Lotus Notes/Quickr.

But in our research we’ve found that web-based tools still lack two key elements that limit their usefulness.  The first is simply feature sets.  Google Apps provides a usable set of document features that may be appropriate for small offices, but it simply lacks the robust feature set including revision tracking, graphic support, and a number of other features demanded by heavy users of applications such as Microsoft Office.  Gmail lacks a number of the features of Microsoft Outlook and Lotus Notes, including tool-bars to support third-party application integration.  For example, many CRM applications provide an Outlook toolbar enabling messages to be tied to specific customer accounts.  Most of the web-based applications I’ve looked at lack the ability to save documents into a shared workspace directly from within Microsoft Office, a key requirement for user acceptance of shared workspace applications.

The second is the lack of off-line support.  Web apps work great when you are connected to the Web, but not everyone has full-time web access, particularly traveling employees working at customer sites or on airplanes.

That’s not to say that there isn’t a case to be made for enterprise usage of emerging web-based application suites.  One company we interviewed for our Building a Successful Virtual Workplace benchmark noted that they are using Google Aps for guest workers.  They’ve found it easier and cheaper to provide a Google Aps account rather than provision fully configured PCs.  Many small companies with limited feature requirements will likely find web-based apps cheaper and easier to support than the more expensive full-blown office suites.

All of the issues I’ve described above are likely short-term limitations to the use of web-based applications.  I expect that over the next 3-5 years the line between capabilities of web-based applications and fat applications will greatly diminish.  It could be that at some point in the not so distant future, web-based applications will be the norm rather than the exception.  Enterprises would be wise to keep abreast of web-based application development moving forward.

About the Author(s)

Irwin Lazar

Vice President & Service Director, Nemertes Research

Irwin Lazar is the Vice President and Service Director at Nemertes Research, where he manages research operations, develops and manages research projects, conducts and analyzes primary research, and advises numerous enterprise and vendor clients. Irwin is responsible for benchmarking the adoption and use of emerging technologies in areas including VOIP, UC, video conferencing, social computing, collaboration, contact center and customer engagement.

A Certified Information Systems Security Professional (CISSP) and sought-after speaker and author, Irwin is a blogger for No Jitter and frequent author for SearchUnifiedCommunications.com. He is a frequent resource for the business and trade press and is regular speaker at events such as Enterprise Connect and Interop. Irwin's earlier background was in IP network architecture, design and engineering.

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