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What Microsoft Should Have Said

It's clear that Microsoft is awfully twitchy about the impact of Google Apps on their Office market share, so they've been trash talking it every chance they get. If you ask me, though, Microsoft is saying all the wrong things.
It's clear that Microsoft is awfully twitchy about the impact of Google Apps on their Office market share, so they've been trash talking it every chance they get. If you ask me, though, Microsoft is saying all the wrong things.For example, take the statement by a Microsoftie that Google Apps is 15 years behind the times. It's true that Google Apps lacks many of the features in Office. For example its word processor doesn't have mail merge, table of contents, footnotes, and other features that are essential to producing paper-based documents using the classic WYSIWYG method. Fifteen years ago, Office 95 could certainly do all of that. Google Apps still cannot match it today.

Of course, fifteen years ago most communication was still done on paper. Google Apps can't do a lot of those Office 95 things, but it's like saying an inkjet printer can't work with carbon paper. Fewer people want to do those things as each year goes by, and if they do they'll need to stay with a paper-friendly suite like Office. And of course, it cuts both ways; Microsoft Office has spent the past 15 years trying to adapt its paper-centric products to the world of the Internet and mobile computing, but those features are either missing or feel bolted-on compared to Google Apps.

I think I understand what Microsoft may be trying to do here with their rhetoric. They want to make users feel like they are losing important features if they switch to Google Apps, forcing Google to spend time implementing them if they want to woo those customers. Yet if someone has a process truly and completely wed to Office mail merge, it's unlikely they'll ever want to move to Google Apps. It makes more sense for Google to write off those customers and focus on the forward-looking ones.

If Microsoft is worried about mass defections to Google Apps, they should emphasize the real strengths of Office and not the esoteric features that most people don't use and can't even figure out. Instead, I'd suggest points something like these:

  • Using Microsoft Office and its cloud companions lets you stay with a familiar user interface, so there's no lengthy retraining required for you or your company.
  • It's unlikely that Google Apps will be able to read and edit your existing Office documents without significant loss of fidelity.
  • Will all users be able to live with the reduced feature sets of Google Apps? If not, how will the remaining Office users exchange documents with them?

Microsoft's Office installed base can be an asset to the company if they can provide an easy path for customers to get their Office documents into the cloud, and an easy way to use them once there.