Google’s (GOOG) April announcement that it would be adding a hosted version of presentation software as part of Google Docs, Google’s nascent stab at a full productivity suite, was realized today with the search provider’s official announcement of Presentation as part of its hosted office solution. Presentation joins Google Docs' word processing application, Docs (creative name, no?), and spreadsheet application, Spreadsheet (even more creative).
Check out YouTube's: Google Docs in Plain English
Adding to the excitement, without much fanfare in the press (hey, it’s Apple — a company known to plan entire days around Steve Jobs’ choice of lunch), Apple had a seminal announcement last month as it introduced a speadsheet application, Numbers (a bit more creative!) to round-out its own productivity software in iWork '08. Apple now offers Pages, its word processing software with Apple flare, Keynote (a hands-down Powerpoint killer), and now Numbers, Apple’s spreadsheet offering.
I’m not going to use this space to compare functionality, mano a mano, of the three office suites. There are numerous analysts (See Carl Howe in particular) who do excellent work in this space. Instead, I’d like to think (write?) out loud about how these products stack up against one another in light of their parent companies’ strategic objectives. While these companies will compete head-on with their new product suites, as we’ll explore in this article, each company has its own, very different reasons for producing a kick-butt office suite.
The Office Environment for Office: In spite of talk of its demise, Microsoft hasn’t been dismissed yet. While the open source movement continues to make inroads on the server side with Unix-inspired systems, Microsoft’s dominance of the OS, and Office Suite on the desktop of corporate computers worldwide is still extremely entrenched.
Because Microsoft continues to control the heart of the office (see image above), Microsoft continues to run a healthy business off of providing solutions, services, servers and programs to the global business community.
Lock In — from the office homeward: For MSFT, controlling the office means that for me to communicate as a business person, I need to buy Microsoft products (or at least products that can be translated to work with MSFT products). This has historically enabled MSFT to own my computer’s OS and office suite at home. In order to communicate with my work life, I need parity of products and platform. This leverage into the home computer via the office environment is why it’s so important for MSFT to maintain its Office Suite dominance.
What’s happening to MSFT after years of failed attempts for competitors to take on Office within the corporate office, is that Microsoft now faces competition from the backdoor: home users. As Apple, Google, Open Office, etc. begin to garner a following at home, this momentum, if it reaches critical mass in terms of demand, functionality, and support in terms of supply, may begin to chip away at MSFT’s dominance in the office. If MSFT’s dominance in the office is challenged, its dominance at home is equally at peril.
Strategy to Compete: I know there is a lot of rhetoric coming from Redmond about their strategy, but I’m hard pressed to see a cohesive strategy to compete with Apple and Google. Microsoft Live is not living up to its hype or spending time, and money on game consoles and failed consumer devices shouldn’t be MSFT’s strategy. Neither should be competing for search. Google is using search to take over the desktop and ultimately, trojan horse into the corporate environment — MSFT needs to understand this.
Capturing web search to own the Web Operating System: I know the stats say otherwise, but do you really use any other search engine other than Google? Really?? Google owns my web experience by organizing my web life and by using apps/products/services to get me to commit more info into the system, Google creates a lot of reliance. I’m still using Gmail at work and to communicate with clients. I’ve got Google Desktop running on my office machine. Google’s new productivity suite aims at Microsoft’s jugular and it’s Google’s foothold into challenging MSFT.
From my home into the office: I’m addicted to Google products at home. I NEED THEM. When I get to work, that dependence doesn’t go away. Now that Google has an offering in the Office space, a product that actually has some advantages over other products of its type, I’m apt to begin introducing my colleagues to Google (I’m thinking Aaron “Instant Rebate” Katsman may write even more compelling analysis on Israeli stocks in a Google Doc).
I love Google Docs for two reasons:
Storage: I love that these docs are accessible from whatever machine I use. I log in via my phone, my home laptop, and my office box and I never have to worry about versioning. I manage one doc in one place. Collaboration: I know MSFT has had collaborative tools for years. But guess what? I never used them — nor would I know how to. With Google Docs, I invite my colleagues into a document that’s hosted by Google and updates in real time. We can edit each others’ articles and even chat in real time on the document itself. What about biz dev and legal stuff with contracts? I don’t know about your firm but I’ve been part of negotiations where the red-lining probably went back and forth over 50 times — all saved under different file names. That’s too much to manage for me (maybe for anyone, other than lawyers).
As I think about how I’m decreasing my dependence on Microsoft products, I realize that Google has added an incredible feature as well. Certainly, Google Docs allows me to save documentation into standard formats that my non-Google-ized colleagues can use. But there’s more. In fact, Google provides the ability to upload your MSFT Office-created documents to Google Docs, convert it into Google format, and continue to work with the application vis-a-vis Google Docs. This is big and important.
Jumping the shark: Given its competitive technology, collaborative features and an ever-growing reliance on Google products, I believe that Google Docs will provide a slow movement away from MSFT Office in the office. In fact, Google is basically saying, “We’re coming to your crib to party!” with last week’s announcement that Cap Gemini will support enterprise versions of Google Docs in Europe. Google will need to continue developing functionality and integrating Docs into your core Google experience. Apple will need to follow suit on the support side and learn from Google’s prescient move to attract the business user.
Using consumer devices to own my desk: Apple is on fire with all its new product introductions. In fact, I think the velocity is a bit much, BUT, I’m listening to a lot of music that I’ve bought via iTunes on my iPod that I’ve upgraded 3 times. Apple’s also done a good job convincing me to add phone functionality to this experience. It all works very well with my MacBook Pro. Apple’s Halo Effect, introducing consumers to Apple consumer electronic products and eventually funneling these to increased Mac sales, has been, until recently, about owning the home computing experience. We’ve seen the numbers attest to Mac notebook growth in market share (according to NPD, Apple’s U.S. retail notebook market share for June 2007 was 17.6%, a gain of 2.2% over 2006).
Filling the business void with an office suite: What business could afford to migrate to a Mac environment given the fact that while things might run more smoothly internally (I’d postulate — though I can’t prove it — that although Apple products retail at a higher price point, total cost of ownership is lower for Apple products), they can’t interface with the rest of the world because of Microsoft’s dominance? No longer — Apple now provides the functionality to compete for the business customer. Apple’s next move will have to be global training and mobilization of third-party support to attract, service, and retain the fledgling business customer.
What does this all mean for investors?
Of these three players, I think Google is best situated for success. What Google, Salesforce.com, et al. have shown is that there is going to be a huge market for SaaS (Software as a Service). In fact, Web Search is really just SaaS 1.0. Instead of buying yellow page CD-ROMs (remember doing that?!), I just count on Google to provide great, FRESH results — all the time. I just type. I think the hardware becomes less important (not more important as AAPL is betting on), and it’s going to be all about the integration of web apps with my desktop, and allowing the heavy processing to occur server side.
Finally, Apple and Microsoft are going to ultimately butt heads in a way that Apple doesn’t really know how to compete. To get to the business customer, Apple will need to open up by partnering in the service experience — something they didn’t quite get, and this is the same thing that almost sunk them a decade ago. As for Microsoft, I think they’ve really reached the point of becoming a “Technology Utility.”
Disclosure: The author’s fund does not have a position in any of the stocks mentioned here as of September 18, 200, but the author owns GOOG personally.