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The Grid: The Next-Gen Internet?

Douglas Heingartner Email 03.08.01 | 2:00 AM

AMSTERDAM, Netherlands — The Matrix may be the future of virtual reality, but researchers say the Grid is the future of collaborative problem-solving.

More than 400 scientists gathered at the Global Grid Forum this week to discuss what may be the Internet’s next evolutionary step.

Though distributed computing evokes associations with populist initiatives like SETI@home, where individuals donate their spare computing power to worthy projects, the Grid will link PCs to each other and the scientific community like never before.

 

The Grid will not only enable sharing of documents and MP3 files, but also connect PCs with sensors, telescopes and tidal-wave simulators.

IBM’s Brian Carpenter suggested “computing will become a utility just like any other utility.”

Carpenter said, “The Grid will open up … storage and transaction power in the same way that the Web opened up content.” And just as the Internet connects various public and private networks, Cisco Systems’ Bob Aiken said, “you’re going to have multiple grids, multiple sets of middleware that people are going to choose from to satisfy their applications.”

As conference moderator Walter Hoogland suggested, “The World Wide Web gave us a taste, but the Grid gives a vision of an ICT (Information and Communication Technology)-enabled world.”

Though the task of standardizing everything from system templates to the definitions of various resources is a mammoth one, the GGF can look to the early days of the Web for guidance. The Grid that organizers are building is a new kind of Internet, only this time with the creators having a better knowledge of where the bottlenecks and teething problems will be.

The general consensus at the event was that although technical issues abound, the thorniest issues will involve social and political dimensions, for example how to facilitate sharing between strangers where there is no history of trust.

Amsterdam seemed a logical choice for the first Global Grid Forum because not only is it the world’s most densely cabled city, it was also home to the Internet Engineering Task Force’s first international gathering in 1993. The IETF has served as a model for many of the GGF’s activities: protocols, policy issues, and exchanging experiences.

The Grid Forum, a U.S.-based organization combined with eGrid – the European Grid Forum, and Asian counterparts to create the Global Grid Forum (GGF) in November, 2000.

The Global Grid Forum organizers said grid communities in the United States and Europe will now run in synch.

The Grid evolved from the early desire to connect supercomputers into “metacomputers” that could be remotely controlled. The word “grid” was borrowed from the electricity grid, to imply that any compatible device could be plugged in anywhere on the Grid and be guaranteed a certain level of resources, regardless of where those resources might come from.

Scientific communities at the conference discussed what the compatibility standards should be, and how extensive the protocols need to be.

As the number of connected devices runs from the thousands into the millions, the policy issues become exponentially more complex. So far, only draft consensus has been reached on most topics, but participants say these are the early days.

As with the Web, the initial impetus for a grid came from the scientific community, specifically high-energy physics, which needed extra resources to manage and analyze the huge amounts of data being collected.

The most nettlesome issues for industry are security and accounting. But unlike the Web, which had security measures tacked on as an afterthought, the Grid is being designed from the ground up as a secure system.


Conference participants debated what types of services (known in distributed computing circles as resource units) provided through the Grid will be charged for. And how will the administrative authority be centralized?

Corporations have been slow to cotton to this new technology’s potential, but the suits are in evidence at this year’s Grid event. As GGF chairman Charlie Catlett noted, “This is the first time I’ve seen this many ties at a Grid forum.”

In addition to IBM, firms such as Boeing, Philips and Unilever are already taking baby steps toward the Grid.

Though commercial needs tend to be more transaction-focused than those of scientific pursuits, most of the technical requirements are common. Furthermore, both science and industry participants say they require a level of reliability that’s not offered by current peer-to-peer initiatives: Downloading from Napster, for example, can take seconds or minutes, or might not work at all.

Garnering commercial interest is critical to the Grid’s future. Cisco’s Aiken explained that “if grids are really going to take off and become the major impetus for the next level of evolution in the Internet, we have to have something that allows (them) to easily transfer to industry.”

Other potential Grid components include creating a virtual observatory, and doctors performing simulations of blood flows. While some of these applications have existed for years, the Grid will make them routine rather than exceptional.

The California Institute of Technology’s Paul Messina said that by sharing computing resources, “you get more science from the same investment.”

Ian Foster of the University of Chicago said that Web precursor Arpanet was initially intended to be a distributed computing network that would share CPU-intensive tasks but instead wound up giving birth to e-mail and FTP.

The Grid may give birth to a global file-swapping network or a members-only citadel for moneyed institutions. But just as no one ten years ago would have conceived of Napster — not to mention AmIHotOrNot.com — the future of the Grid is unknown.

An associated DataGrid conference continues until Friday, focusing on a project in which resources from Pan-European research institutions will analyze data generated by a new particle collider being built at Swiss particle-physics lab CERN.

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Thoughts on Google Sites, IT department threat?

Google released Sites today, a centralized repository for sharing information and collaborative workspaces. There’s been much commentary around the blogosphere on whether Sites is a threat to Microsoft’s SharePoint product, MiramarMike gives an excellent comparison over here.

There’s been so much discussion post launch that I wasn’t going to comment. However a post over on RWW by Sarah Perez gave me some motivation to comment on her perspective. Sarah’s perspective is that, while Sites might be a reasonable product for Ma and Pa operations, it’s not suitable for enterprise, and in fact Google’s strategy for encouraging enterprise users to adopt their product is counter productive and somewhat sneaky.

Sarah quotes Dave Girouard, who runs Google’s enterprise unit, as saying this about what his company is doing: “We’re wrestling over who should have ultimate authority of the technology people use in the workplace. There’s no right or wrong answer so we have to respect everyone’s view.”

She then goes on to draw a stark conclusion from Dave’s words, saying:

Let’s read between the lines of that last statement…Google doesn’t think IT should have the ultimate authority about the tools people use to do their jobs. There’s “power to the people,” and then there’s a total coup-d’etat. Google’s opting for the latter.

I have to say I can’t agree with Sarah, Google is clearly empowering operational level employees within an enterprise. In the event that their IT department hasn’t the funding (although given the fact that GApps is free this is a non starter anyway) or the time resource, operational and team level personnel can deploy the broader GoogleApps products to make the most of their collaboration potential. The way I see it, if IT departments were doing their jobs (and some are) there would be no need to be having this discussion. They would be sufficiently user-centric to decide on the best product for their users needs, be it MS, Google or anything else.

In all this discussion around circumventing, or not, corporate IT departments, people seem to have lost sight of the real issue here. Corporate IT’s role is to assess and implement solutions that provide the functionality to the users that those suers require. It isn’t to build empires or create silos. Any success Google has within an enterprise setting (and I’m not going to wade into the argument about whether or not Google apps is having enterprise level success) would seem to be to be a comment on the efficacy of the IT department itself.

For too long CIOs have been technology centric on the one hand and compliance driven on the other. Between cuddling up to the big software vendors and spending time worried about the skins with regards Sarbanes Oxley compliance, they’ve lost site of the fact that their existing offering to the business are lacking.

Rather than finding ways to block their users making individualised and decentralised decisions, they should be partnering with the business units to truly asses their requirements and the best solutions to fulfil their needs.

Sarah quotes Joel Hruska of Ars Technica as saying “…IT administrators tend to fervently dislike the sudden appearance of unapproved applications, even if said software package promises world peace, actually delivers all those free iPods, and periodically spits gold doubloons out of the CD-ROM drive. Google’s approach seems predicated on the old adage that it’s always easier to get forgiveness than permission. One the one hand, Google Apps Team Edition could help facilitate group-level communication on projects, but the program could also engender a significant backlash from IT managers who aren’t at all thrilled at its sudden appearance. This is particularly true of companies with strict(er) IT policies, or companies already in the middle of deploying an alternative work collaboration system…Google seems to be betting that if it can build enough grassroots support for Google Apps, IT departments and corporations will have no choice but to embrace it as a provider. Such an approach may work beautifully in the consumer market, but there’s no guarantee corporations will be as flexible.”

And then decides that:

If anything, this strategy will drive enterprise IT even further from Google Apps, keeping the Apps program the sole province of the SOHO and small-medium business market.

And herein lies the rub, if enterprise IT continues to be prescriptive and protective of incumbents, it will eventually start to erode the value of the organisation as younger, leaner, more agile and proactive organisations utilise whichever tools satisfy their needs.

2 Responses to “Thoughts on Google Sites, IT department threat?”


  1. 1 Jim Donovan
    Ben – that is too simplistic and naive on so many levels. Yes IT depts may have challenges in responsiveness, but they have first responsibility on business IT integrity for many very sound reasons. The frequent shambles caused by Excel and Access user developments are legion, as were the skunk works super-micro apps of the 80s. Web-apps are no different.
  2. 2 Ben Kepes
    Jim – I accept that my post was a little heavy handed. However I have to say that it appears there is a real degree of empire building and turf protection going on within some corporate IT departments. Granted there are requirements on CIOs to ensure corporate safety, but I contend that many of their decisions are made for the wrong reasons.

    What I’m saying is that IT departments need to be involved and embrace new offerings (within parameters). I liken it to a CEO directive of “let’s be as creative as we can on how we support the day-to-day business activities” … They also need to know when a bottom up solution is acceptable, appropriate and most applicable.

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Lately, we’ve been discussing the concept of tech populism and the how enterprises are moving towards a more people-centric focus when it comes to their IT infrastructure. Although we support this movement of bringing social tools into the workspace, one could argue that there’s a right way and a wrong way to do this. For some, it’s a matter of introducing social or collaborative features into enterprise software; for others, like WorkLight, it’s about adapting existing consumer tools for the enterprise.

In both of these scenarios, the IT department is still involved in the process of the introduction and deployment of the new capabilities. On the other hand, Google is trying a completely different approach: subvert the IT department altogether and appeal directly to the worker.

Google’s Strategy in the Enterprise

While this approach may work in the enterprise space in the short term, in the long run, they’re alienating the very people whose alliances they need in order to become a success. Today, with Google’s announcement of Google Sites, the blogosphere is already comparing the product to Sharepoint and trying to drive nails into Microsoft’s coffin. I’d argue that it’s far too soon to claim that Google is offering anything that really has a shot at making a dent in the enterprise world.

As an online suite of applications, email, calendaring, IM, and even security and compliance with Postini’s help, Google Apps is off to a good start as being a suite that really has it together. For the small to medium size business, you could say that Google makes a strong offering as a more affordable alternative to Microsoft Servers and applications. However, it’s a big jump from offering tools to a mom-and-pop as compared with a global, Fortune 500 company.

Google is actually going about marketing to the enterprise market in a pretty ingenious way – they’re not. Instead, they’re bypassing the IT department (who would, in all honesty, probably laugh at the thought) and marketing their suite on the sly directly to the employees themselves: “Are the tools provided by your IT department too unwieldy to use? Is IT to slow to respond to your needs? Then forget IT and use Google Apps instead!” This is definitely a good plan for Google in the short term, but it’s not one that is going to be good for them in the long run…especially when IT catches on to what their users are doing.

Take the new Google Sites, for instance. Ben Worthen’s commented in today’s Wall Street Journal about the product:

“Setting up sites like this has traditionally required help from the information-technology department. Google boasts in its press release that workers can set up a site ‘without having to burden IT for support.’ We love that phrase: It’s a bit like showing a teenager how to sneak out of the house and calling it a way to go out without burdening parents by letting them know. It also speaks volumes about Google’s strategy for breaking into businesses. The company is intentionally bypassing tech departments, which might object to Google hosting their business’s sensitive information. Instead, the company is appealing directly to the average worker, who doesn’t want to have to wait months for IT to have the time and money for their project. So while it will probably fill IT pros with visions of sensitive corporate data flowing out of their businesses, Google’s business model isn’t dependent on winning techies over.”

A previous WSJ article also reported Dave Girouard, who runs Google’s enterprise unit, as saying this about what his company is doing: “We’re wrestling over who should have ultimate authority of the technology people use in the workplace. There’s no right or wrong answer so we have to respect everyone’s view.”

Let’s read between the lines of that last statement…Google doesn’t think IT should have the ultimate authority about the tools people use to do their jobs. There’s “power to the people,” (tech populism) and then there’s a total coup-d’etat. Google’s opting for the latter.

Network World agrees: “By killing the admin function, Google is trying to change the culture of software usage – the power structure, if you will. Taken to extremes, such a structure means that no longer will IT be the law enforcement officers of policy.”

CIO Fear #1: Functionality

A concern for Google Apps is the integration capabilities it offers. Alastair Mitchell, CEO at online collaboration and project management outfit Huddle.net doesn’t feel Google is ready for business yet. “Google Sites may be badged as a business tool, but the fact is that it isn’t properly integrated with any of Google’s other apps. Worryingly, it seems that Google took a good product like JotSpot and stripped out most of powerful functionality. Now it’s just a pretty wiki,” claims Mitchell.

A pretty wiki? OUCH! But Mitchell does have a point about integration. Microsoft’s solutions are tightly integrated with each other, Google’s, as of yet, are not.  Count Joe Graves, CIO of Stratus Technologies, a $200 million-per-year computer maker, among the doubters. Graves, a fan of both his company’s Google Enterprise Search appliance and Salesforce.com thinks Google is a “just a sharp company,” but he’s standardized on Microsoft Office and plans to stay that way. “Google Apps would save us some money, but probably create some headaches that would surpass money savings,” said Graves in an interview. “It’s not clear with Google Apps that we’d have the same interoperability that we do with Microsoft Office. I took a look at Google Apps and wasn’t really impressed with it. It doesn’t seem like a comprehensive package.”

CIO Fear #2: Security

Enterprise CIOs do have a justifiable reason to fear Google’s encroachment on their territory…and it’s not just about control. Although users may see IT as gatekeepers preventing them from being able to do their jobs, turning that control over to Google instead may not be a better solution.

An article in SearchCIO-Midmarket quotes Chenxi Wang, a principal analyst at Forrester Research Inc, as saying this about Google Apps “[Users] don’t want to go through the IT department to get approval, because it’s burdensome. On the flip side, the minus side is from a corporate standpoint, you have less control. I think this has its place for collaboration scenarios whereby the content that is being collaborated is not that sensitive or the organization is not a highly regulated industry, for example. Employees storing and sharing documents, spreadsheets and the like will be doing that on Google’s servers, which could present a compliance problem in some industries. IM is included, which still makes some executives wary. And sensitive business information could be shared with the wrong people inside the business.”

Wary indeed:

“It’s not for us,” said David Driggers, IT asset manager and deployment desktop systems team leader at Alabama Gas Corp. in Birmingham, Ala. Driggers said he worries about how Google’s Web-based applications would square in terms of compliance with Sarbanes-Oxley regulations. “Do you have real control over [email]?” he asked. “Where is the mail hosted? We have ours here and we control it.”

Even Mark Harrison, of Abraham Harrison LLC, a test case for the Google Apps product has concerns. “It would be comforting to have an SLA that covered the entire suite,” he says. (The Google Apps Premier Edition suite contains an availability guarantee only for its Gmail portion – 99.9 percent uptime -and offers no commitment for the other components.) In the year that he has used it, downtime has been rare. “We’ve never been crippled by an outage,” Harrison says. Should one occur, the company would feel the impact, as they are now entirely dependent on the suite.

CIO Fear #3: The Google TOS

Another big fear is the scary Google TOS. Joshua Greenbaum writes on ZDNet about how Google defines content and what they say they do with it.

“First, let’s clarify what content is. Here’s the wording from the Google Terms of Service page: ‘data files, written text, computer software, music, audio files or other sounds, photographs, videos or other images).’

Then, let’s clarify what Google says you have given it the right to do with your content, even though it generously lets you keep your copyright: (the typos are courtesy Google’s legal department, which forgot to use a word processor with a spell-checker.)

11.1 ….. By submitting, posting or displaying the content you give Google a perpetual, irrevocable, worldwide, royalty-free, and non-exclusive licence to reproduce, adapt, modify, translate, publish, publicly perform, publicly display and distribute any Content which you submit, post or display on or through, the Services. This licence is for the sole purpose of enabling Google to display, distribute and promote the Services and may be revoked for certain Services as defined in the Additional Terms of those Services.

Did you catch that last line? The one about displaying your content in order to promote Google’s Services? Which of your business’s content would you want used in this way?

Then there’s the part about how Google can make your content available for syndicated services — i.e. spam and other forms of advertising. Again, what content do you think you’d like shared in this way?

11.2 You agree that this licence includes a right for Google to make such Content available to other companies, organizations or individuals with whom Google has relationships for the provision of syndicated services, and to use such Content in connection with the provision of those services.

Don’t forget the cute little provision about termination of services, which goes like this:

4.3 …. As part of this continuing innovation, you acknowledge and agree that Google may stop (permanently or temporarily) providing the Services (or any features within the Services) to you or to users generally at Google’s sole discretion, without prior notice to you.

And here’s the clincher: Google can also nuke your data when it wants to, with no recourse to the user:

4.4 You acknowledge and agree that if Google disables access to your account, you may be prevented from accessing the Services, your account details or any files or other content which is contained in your account.

CIO Fear #4: True ROI

When you’re looking at the enterprise marketplace, you can’t really take the cost savings into the picture. The cost savings of moving to Google Docs just isn’t as substantial as it is for a small company. Although the the $50/year price of Premier Edition is more affordable, enterprises with more than a few thousand employees are already buying Microsoft licensing in bulk for as little as $100 per license. Moving to Google Apps is a dramatic decrease in functionality for them, and one that isn’t worth the cost.

Even with the addition of Google Sites, Google isn’t offering Sharepoint-like functionality. For those that don’t know, “Sharepoint” isn’t just online collaboration and document sharing. It’s a suite of products and technologies that offer functionality and access to all data across all applications, even line-of-business applications.

An IT admin commenter on ZDNet posts: “From within Outlook you can instantly pull up a customer, get a dozen looks on their activity or prior orders, find direct links to people closer to the products with email, phone or IM access immediately from tags in the documents and answer any question the customer has, period. Can you do that with Google apps? I don’t believe so, but you can collaborate. big whoop. You can setup a network share and collaborate just as easily with what you already have and not investing in Google apps for that matter, if you want very limited functionality. MOSS blows Google apps away and does NOT cost more over the long run and provides much richer environment, many more tools to collaborate with, easily interface our BI data to all users with complete and great administrative controls, which Google lacks even for simply document sharing(wheee), a managed code runtime and services that allow your end users to all have an Office GUI, not just an office tool, to look at any data on the network, at any time, in any way they need to…I repeat, smart companies are looking beyond initial cost to cost and ROI over minimum 5 years. That is where Google starts to cost A LOT more…”

Google Shrugs Shoulders

So what?, they say.  We “give administrators the control to do that if that’s what they decide,” says Google Senior Product Marketing Manager Jeremy Milo said. “The easiest way to do it would be to disable all the applications.”

He’s referring to the administrative functions of the suite that allow CIOs to control which employees can use which applications in the suite. In order for a CIO or IT director to gain control of the suite, they must first sign up for Team Edition. Once inside, there is an administrative login that connects the CIO with Google. With that, the CIO is given an option to either create a CNAME record or upload an HTML file provided by Google to the company’s domain. Both options prove that the CIO has control over the domain. A third option is to update the domain’s MX record. Exercising any of those options essentially disables Team Edition for the domain and shifts everything to Google Apps Standard Edition, Google’s free version of its Web-based application suite for businesses. Once that happens, companies can use Gmail as an email client and CIOs can take control of the applications. (source: SearchCIO-midmarket) 

So they only way to control employee access is to sign up for the program? If that wasn’t such genius, I might actually call it…well, evil.

So Who’s Using Google Apps in the Enterprise?

Google is proud to be offering their suite to “several” enterprise customers including GE, Procter & Gamble, Loreal, and Prudential. Touts Google Apps product manager Matt Glotzbach, the company has picked up 500,000 customers for Apps since it launched in February 2007 and is adding 20,000 users every day. We’ve passed 500,000 organizations using Google Apps, and we’re adding 2,000 to 3,000 more a day,” says Glotzbach. “The vast majority have been small- and medium-sized companies, plus educational institutions, but the pace and interest from big companies is picking up.”

But even those figures barely register a dent in Microsoft’s Office armor. Microsoft says they have more than 500 million Office users. Some 62% of U.S. businesses use Microsoft’s Outlook e-mail software, compared with less than 1% for corporate webmail like Google’s, says Tom Austin, an analyst at researcher Gartner.

And those big enterprises they have on board? Even on Google’s very own Google Apps web site, the truth is told, if anyone can take a minute from doing the happy Google dance to notice. They currently list 12 companies using Google Apps, one of which is Google itself. Reading through the quotes I see this:

“GE is interested in evaluating Google Apps for the easy access it provides to a suite of web applications, and the way these applications can help people work together.”

“L’Oreal R & D has decided to test Google Apps in order to optimize collaboration between its researchers.”

“Interested,” “evaluating,” and “testing” are not words that equal an enterprise partnership.

Oh and Capgemini, the IT services and business consultancy, listed there? They deploy Google Apps to enterprises as one of their services. Their first deployment went successfully in November of 2007. It was to themselves.

The IT Backlash Is Yet To Come

Even though IT is warming up to more consumer-friendly applications, Google’s methodology for getting into the enterprise has a good chance to completely backfire on them.

According to Google Apps senior product manager Rajen Sheth, “Google Apps has been, by definition, an IT project, and now we want to let people use it without IT involvement.”  He goes on to suggest that there shouldn’t be any concern about finding uplanned and unapproved implementations of Google Apps on corporate networks because ” the IT department always has the option to sign up for the Standard Edition for free if they want to provide control over this. This is a solid, happy medium.”

But Joel Hruska of Ars Technica writes on his personal blog:

“[there’s] one problem with that: IT administrators tend to fervently dislike the sudden appearance of unapproved applications, even if said software package promises world peace, actually delivers all those free iPods, and periodically spits gold doubloons out of the CD-ROM drive. Google’s approach seems predicated on the old adage that it’s always easier to get forgiveness than permission. One the one hand, Google Apps Team Edition could help facilitate group-level communication on projects, but the program could also engender a significant backlash from IT managers who aren’t at all thrilled at its sudden appearance. This is particularly true of companies with strict(er) IT policies, or companies already in the middle of deploying an alternative work collaboration system.

Google claims that the purpose of Team Edition is to allow users to “share documents and calendars securely without burdening IT for support,” are more likely to be greeted by raised eyebrows from the IT department. In the right (or wrong) circumstances, the unapproved presence and use of Google Apps Team Edition could, in fact, increase the burden on IT support staff. Google seems to be betting that if it can build enough grassroots support for Google Apps, IT departments and corporations will have no choice but to embrace it as a provider. Such an approach may work beautifully in the consumer market, but there’s no guarantee corporations will be as flexible.”

If anything, this strategy will drive enterprise IT even further from Google Apps, keeping the Apps program the sole province of the SOHO and small-medium business market.

Author Disclosure: I’m currently a writer for five different blogs, one of which is Microsoft property, Channel 10, but I am not a Microsoft employee. These remarks are solely my opinion alone, but it’s likely they’re influenced by my previous experience as a MCSE-certified systems administrator!

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Google Sites the Next Sharepoint? Maybe Not….Why Google Apps Could Lose the Enterprise Market

Written by Sarah Perez / February 28, 2008 4:35 PM / 0 Comments


Lately, we’ve been discussing the concept of tech populism and the how enterprises are moving towards a more people-centric focus when it comes to their IT infrastructure. Although we support this movement of bringing social tools into the workspace, one could argue that there’s a right way and a wrong way to do this. For some, it’s a matter of introducing social or collaborative features into enterprise software; for others, like WorkLight, it’s about adapting existing consumer tools for the enterprise.
In both of these scenarios, the IT department is still involved in the process of the introduction and deployment of the new capabilities. On the other hand, Google is trying a completely different approach: subvert the IT department altogether and appeal directly to the worker.

Google’s Strategy in the Enterprise

While this approach may work in the enterprise space in the short term, in the long run, they’re alienating the very people whose alliances they need in order to become a success. Today, with Google’s announcement of Google Sites, the blogosphere is already comparing the product to Sharepoint and trying to drive nails into Microsoft’s coffin. I’d argue that it’s far too soon to claim that Google is offering anything that really has a shot at making a dent in the enterprise world.

As an online suite of applications, email, calendaring, IM, and even security and compliance with Postini’s help, Google Apps is off to a good start as being a suite that really has it together. For the small to medium size business, you could say that Google makes a strong offering as a more affordable alternative to Microsoft Servers and applications. However, it’s a big jump from offering tools to a mom-and-pop as compared with a global, Fortune 500 company.

Google is actually going about marketing to the enterprise market in a pretty ingenious way – they’re not. Instead, they’re bypassing the IT department (who would, in all honesty, probably laugh at the thought) and marketing their suite on the sly directly to the employees themselves: “Are the tools provided by your IT department too unwieldy to use? Is IT to slow to respond to your needs? Then forget IT and use Google Apps instead!” This is definitely a good plan for Google in the short term, but it’s not one that is going to be good for them in the long run…especially when IT catches on to what their users are doing.

Take the new Google Sites, for instance. Take Ben Worthen’s comment in today’s Wall Street Journal about the product:

“Setting up sites like this has traditionally required help from the information-technology department. Google boasts in its press release that workers can set up a site ‘without having to burden IT for support.’ We love that phrase: It’s a bit like showing a teenager how to sneak out of the house and calling it a way to go out without burdening parents by letting them know. It also speaks volumes about Google’s strategy for breaking into businesses. The company is intentionally bypassing tech departments, which might object to Google hosting their business’s sensitive information. Instead, the company is appealing directly to the average worker, who doesn’t want to have to wait months for IT to have the time and money for their project. So while it will probably fill IT pros with visions of sensitive corporate data flowing out of their businesses, Google’s business model isn’t dependent on winning techies over.”

A previous WSJ article also reported Dave Girouard, who runs Google’s enterprise unit, as saying this about what his company is doing: “We’re wrestling over who should have ultimate authority of the technology people use in the workplace. There’s no right or wrong answer so we have to respect everyone’s view.”

Let’s read between the lines of that last statement…Google doesn’t think IT should have the ultimate authority about the tools people use to do their jobs. There’s “power to the people,” (tech populism) and then there’s a total coup-d’etat. Google’s opting for the latter.

Network World agrees: “By killing the admin function, Google is trying to change the culture of software usage – the power structure, if you will. Taken to extremes, such a structure means that no longer will IT be the law enforcement officers of policy.”

CIO Fear #1: Functionality

A concern for Google Apps is the integration capabilities it offers. Alastair Mitchell, CEO at online collaboration and project management outfit Huddle.net doesn’t feel Google is ready for business yet. “Google Sites may be badged as a business tool, but the fact is that it isn’t properly integrated with any of Google’s other apps. Worryingly, it seems that Google took a good product like JotSpot and stripped out most of powerful functionality. Now it’s just a pretty wiki,” claims Mitchell.

A pretty wiki? OUCH! But Mitchell does have a point about integration. Microsoft’s solutions are tightly integrated with each other, Google’s, as of yet, are not.  Count Joe Graves, CIO of Stratus Technologies, a $200 million-per-year computer maker, among the doubters. Graves, a fan of both his company’s Google Enterprise Search appliance and Salesforce.com thinks Google is a “just a sharp company,” but he’s standardized on Microsoft Office and plans to stay that way. “Google Apps would save us some money, but probably create some headaches that would surpass money savings,” said Graves in an interview. “It’s not clear with Google Apps that we’d have the same interoperability that we do with Microsoft Office. I took a look at Google Apps and wasn’t really impressed with it. It doesn’t seem like a comprehensive package.”

CIO Fear #2: Security

Enterprise CIOs do have a justifiable reason to fear Google’s encroachment on their territory…and it’s not just about control. Although users may see IT as gatekeepers preventing them from being able to do their jobs, turning that control over to Google instead may not be a better solution.

An article in SearchCIO-Midmarket quotes Chenxi Wang, a principal analyst at Forrester Research Inc, as saying this about Google Apps “[Users] don’t want to go through the IT department to get approval, because it’s burdensome. On the flip side, the minus side is from a corporate standpoint, you have less control. I think this has its place for collaboration scenarios whereby the content that is being collaborated is not that sensitive or the organization is not a highly regulated industry, for example. Employees storing and sharing documents, spreadsheets and the like will be doing that on Google’s servers, which could present a compliance problem in some industries. IM is included, which still makes some executives wary. And sensitive business information could be shared with the wrong people inside the business.”

Wary indeed:

“It’s not for us,” said David Driggers, IT asset manager and deployment desktop systems team leader at Alabama Gas Corp. in Birmingham, Ala. Driggers said he worries about how Google’s Web-based applications would square in terms of compliance with Sarbanes-Oxley regulations. “Do you have real control over [email]?” he asked. “Where is the mail hosted? We have ours here and we control it.”

Even Mark Harrison, of Abraham Harrison LLC, a test case for the Google Apps product has concerns. “It would be comforting to have an SLA that covered the entire suite,” he says. (The Google Apps Premier Edition suite contains an availability guarantee only for its Gmail portion – 99.9 percent uptime -and offers no commitment for the other components.) In the year that he has used it, downtime has been rare. “We’ve never been crippled by an outage,” Harrison says. Should one occur, the company would feel the impact, as they are now entirely dependent on the suite.

CIO Fear #3: The Google TOS

Another big fear is the scary Google TOS. Joshua Greenbaum writes on ZDNet about how Google defines content and what they say they do with it.

“First, let’s clarify what content is. Here’s the wording from the Google Terms of Service page: ‘data files, written text, computer software, music, audio files or other sounds, photographs, videos or other images).’ Then, let’s clarify what Google says you have given it the right to do with your content, even though it generously lets you keep your copyright: (the typos are courtesy Google’s legal department, which forgot to use a word processor with a spell-checker.)

11.1 ….. By submitting, posting or displaying the content you give Google a perpetual, irrevocable, worldwide, royalty-free, and non-exclusive licence to reproduce, adapt, modify, translate, publish, publicly perform, publicly display and distribute any Content which you submit, post or display on or through, the Services. This licence is for the sole purpose of enabling Google to display, distribute and promote the Services and may be revoked for certain Services as defined in the Additional Terms of those Services.

Did you catch that last line? The one about displaying your content in order to promote Google’s Services? Which of your business’s content would you want used in this way?

Then there’s the part about how Google can make your content available for syndicated services — i.e. spam and other forms of advertising. Again, what content do you think you’d like shared in this way?

11.2 You agree that this licence includes a right for Google to make such Content available to other companies, organizations or individuals with whom Google has relationships for the provision of syndicated services, and to use such Content in connection with the provision of those services.

Don’t forget the cute little provision about termination of services, which goes like this:

4.3 …. As part of this continuing innovation, you acknowledge and agree that Google may stop (permanently or temporarily) providing the Services (or any features within the Services) to you or to users generally at Google’s sole discretion, without prior notice to you.

And here’s the clincher: Google can also nuke your data when it wants to, with no recourse to the user:

4.4 You acknowledge and agree that if Google disables access to your account, you may be prevented from accessing the Services, your account details or any files or other content which is contained in your account.

CIO Fear #4: True ROI

When you’re looking at the enterprise marketplace, you can’t really take the cost savings into the picture. The cost savings of moving to Google Docs just isn’t as substantial as it is for a small company. Although the the $50/year price of Premier Edition is more affordable, enterprises with more than a few thousand employees are already buying Microsoft licensing in bulk for as little as $100 per license. Moving to Google Apps is a dramatic decrease in functionality for them, and one that isn’t worth the cost.

Even with the addition of Google Sites, Google isn’t offering Sharepoint-like functionality. For those that don’t know, “Sharepoint” isn’t just online collaboration and document sharing. It’s a suite of products and technologies that offer functionality and access to all data across all applications, even line-of-business applications.

An IT admin commenter on ZDNet posts: “From within Outlook you can instantly pull up a customer, get a dozen looks on their activity or prior orders, find direct links to people closer to the products with email, phone or IM access immediately from tags in the documents and answer any question the customer has, period. Can you do that with Google apps? I don’t believe so, but you can collaborate. big whoop. You can setup a network share and collaborate just as easily with what you already have and not investing in Google apps for that matter, if you want very limited functionality. MOSS blows Google apps away and does NOT cost more over the long run and provides much richer environment, many more tools to collaborate with, easily interface our BI data to all users with complete and great administrative controls, which Google lacks even for simply document sharing(wheee), a managed code runtime and services that allow your end users to all have an Office GUI, not just an office tool, to look at any data on the network, at any time, in any way they need to…I repeat, smart companies are looking beyond initial cost to cost and ROI over minimum 5 years. That is where Google starts to cost A LOT more…”

Google Shrugs Shoulders

So what?, they say.  We “give administrators the control to do that if that’s what they decide,” says Google Senior Product Marketing Manager Jeremy Milo said. “The easiest way to do it would be to disable all the applications.”

He’s referring to the administrative functions of the suite that allow CIOs to control which employees can use which applications in the suite. In order for a CIO or IT director to gain control of the suite, they must first sign up for Team Edition. Once inside, there is an administrative login that connects the CIO with Google. With that, the CIO is given an option to either create a CNAME record or upload an HTML file provided by Google to the company’s domain. Both options prove that the CIO has control over the domain. A third option is to update the domain’s MX record. Exercising any of those options essentially disables Team Edition for the domain and shifts everything to Google Apps Standard Edition, Google’s free version of its Web-based application suite for businesses. Once that happens, companies can use Gmail as an email client and CIOs can take control of the applications. (source: SearchCIO-midmarket) 

So they only way to control employee access is to sign up for the program? If that wasn’t such genius, I might actually call it…well, evil.

So Who’s Using Google Apps in the Enterprise?

Google is proud to be offering their suite to “several” enterprise customers including GE, Procter & Gamble, Loreal, and Prudential. Touts Google Apps product manager Matt Glotzbach, the company has picked up 500,000 customers for Apps since it launched in February 2007 and is adding 20,000 users every day. We’ve passed 500,000 organizations using Google Apps, and we’re adding 2,000 to 3,000 more a day,” says Glotzbach. “The vast majority have been small- and medium-sized companies, plus educational institutions, but the pace and interest from big companies is picking up.”

But even those figures barely register a dent in Microsoft’s Office armor. Microsoft says they have more than 500 million Office users. Some 62% of U.S. businesses use Microsoft’s Outlook e-mail software, compared with less than 1% for corporate webmail like Google’s, says Tom Austin, an analyst at researcher Gartner.

And those big enterprises they have on board? Even on Google’s very own Google Apps web site, the truth is told, if anyone can take a minute from doing the happy Google dance to notice. They currently list 12 companies using Google Apps, one of which is Google itself. Reading through the quotes I see this:

“GE is interested in evaluating Google Apps for the easy access it provides to a suite of web applications, and the way these applications can help people work together.”

“L’Oreal R & D has decided to test Google Apps in order to optimize collaboration between its researchers.”

“Interested,” “evaluating,” and “testing” are not words that equal an enterprise partnership.

Oh and Capgemini, the IT services and business consultancy, listed there? They deploy Google Apps to enterprises as one of their services. Their first deployment went successfully in November of 2007. It was to themselves.

The IT Backlash Is Yet To Come

Even though IT is warming up to more consumer-friendly applications, Google’s methodology for getting into the enterprise has a good chance to completely backfire on them.

According to Google Apps senior product manager Rajen Sheth, “Google Apps has been, by definition, an IT project, and now we want to let people use it without IT involvement.”  He goes on to suggest that there shouldn’t be any concern about finding uplanned and unapproved implementations of Google Apps on corporate networks because ” the IT department always has the option to sign up for the Standard Edition for free if they want to provide control over this. This is a solid, happy medium.”

But Joel Hruska of Ars Technica writes on his personal blog:

“[there’s] one problem with that: IT administrators tend to fervently dislike the sudden appearance of unapproved applications, even if said software package promises world peace, actually delivers all those free iPods, and periodically spits gold doubloons out of the CD-ROM drive. Google’s approach seems predicated on the old adage that it’s always easier to get forgiveness than permission. One the one hand, Google Apps Team Edition could help facilitate group-level communication on projects, but the program could also engender a significant backlash from IT managers who aren’t at all thrilled at its sudden appearance. This is particularly true of companies with strict(er) IT policies, or companies already in the middle of deploying an alternative work collaboration system. Google claims that the purpose of Team Edition is to allow users to “share documents and calendars securely without burdening IT for support,” are more likely to be greeted by raised eyebrows from the IT department. In the right (or wrong) circumstances, the unapproved presence and use of Google Apps Team Edition could, in fact, increase the burden on IT support staff. Google seems to be betting that if it can build enough grassroots support for Google Apps, IT departments and corporations will have no choice but to embrace it as a provider. Such an approach may work beautifully in the consumer market, but there’s no guarantee corporations will be as flexible.”

If anything, this strategy will drive enterprise IT even further from Google Apps, keeping the Apps program the sole province of the SOHO and small-medium business market.

Author Disclosure: I’m currently a writer for five different blogs, one of which is Microsoft property, Channel 10, but I am not a Microsoft employee. These remarks are solely my opinion alone, but it’s likely they’re influenced by my previous experience as a MCSE-certified systems administrator!

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 Comment of the Day: “Google Docs is Chock Full of Fail”

Written by Richard MacManus / February 22, 2008 11:17 PM / 32 Comments


In his post Why Google Apps is a Serious Threat to Microsoft Office, Bernard Lunn argued that the collaboration features in Google Apps are good enough to take on Microsoft. Commenter Karim took him on, with a well-written defense of MS Office. Also check out Bernard’s response and the further debate that ensued. This kind of discussion is what we like to see on RWW, so well done Karim, you’ve won a $30 Amazon voucher – courtesy of our competition sponsors AdaptiveBlue and their Amazon WishList Widget. Here is Karim’s full comment:

“Open a Google doc. Paste an image. Oh, that’s right, you can’t Ctrl-C copy, Ctrl-V PASTE an image into a document. Ok, so INSERT an image. Now proportionally resize the image so it retains its aspect ratio. Oh, that’s right, you can’t. Now crop the image. Oh that’s right, you can’t.

Now insert a table. Now grab the edge of a column and resize the column. Oh wait, you can’t. Now delete one of the columns. Oh wait, you can’t.

Now type some text and select it. Choose one of the fonts on your computer instead of the six fonts Google licensed from Microsoft. Oh wait, you can’t. Create a new paragraph style. Oh wait, you can’t. Change the font color and background on some text. Now copy that formatting to another paragraph. Oh wait, you can’t.

Now do a find and replace on some text. Hmmm, why is that feature marked as “experimental?” Oh, because you don’t get to choose which instances get replaced, it just replaces all of them. And there’s no way to undo afterwards.

People just love to use software where some incredibly basic feature like “search & replace” is marked with “WARNING! EXPERIMENTAL! Use eye protection! This could blow up in your face!

I’m sure Google docs works for you and your needs, but for very basic stuff, Google docs is chock full of FAIL.

You “assume” the Spreadsheet product will be “ready for prime time pretty soon,” but do not tell us why you think so. Do Google products usually come flying out of beta?

You tell us it’s all gonna be great when Google Gears finally kicks in and you can work without an Internet connection, then you point to a review where the guys says, yeah, they enabled “experimental” offline use, but, uh, you can’t actually edit documents offline. I assume this will also be done “pretty soon?”

Then you gush about how Google Docs is a “platform” — don’t you remember Microsoft Word is too? Do you not remember macro viruses? When malware authors realize they too “can plug into Google Docs as if they owned it” then there’s a chance they’re gonna 0wn you.

You talk about being able to view Google Docs on your Blackberry, when mobile device support for Microsoft Word documents is already pretty commonplace.

Finally you tell us that “Google will win this battle” is because “they have the economic engine,” meaning, they have advertising in all their stuff. Yay capitalism. I know the last six times I used a word processor, I kept thinking it needed more advertising.

You undermine your own argument by adding that you assume you “can always opt to pay a subscription and be ad free.” LOL! Order now and get a free set of steak knives? Now how much would you pay? But wait, there’s more….

The irony is you could go out right now, and get a whole Microsoft Office suite (Word, Excel, Powerpoint, OneNote) for $120 at Newegg, and you can install it on three different computers. And it works great and has tons more features than Google Docs. And it has no ads. Imagine that!

$120 / 3 computers = $40 per computer. Assuming you upgrade every 3 years, that’s about $1.12 per PC per month for the MS Office suite. Why would I spend THAT kind of crazy money for software I use day-in, day-out when I can bang my head “for free” against the lame “experimental” features of Google Docs?

You started off your post saying “MS Office can be annoying, but it does work.” By “be annoying,” I assume you mean “cost money.” I mean, you’ll get around to coughing up $25 for RTM someday, right?

You said “If I want to persuade with words, I use words.” Next time maybe you should try different words. :-)”

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» Monday, February 25, 2008 11:58 PM from Critical Section
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  • I am hardly a power user of Google Docs and I don’t doubt Office has a ton of functionality that Google doesn’t.However, I just created a document, inserted a table, dragged the margin to resize the column and deleted a column.

    So I conclude Karim must be an idiot or a troll and ignored the rest of his lengthy diatribe.

    Posted by: Andy C | February 23, 2008 12:41 AM

  • Well actually I wouldn’t be so quick to write his comment off. I’ve been using Google Docs almost right from the time it launched. I still use it, *however* there are a few frustrating aspects to it. So I end up using MS Word more often than not for word processing. Google Docs is great for when you’re collaborating, as Bernard said in his post, but I think Karim is right to say it isn’t yet ready to be one’s default word processing tool.Posted by: Richard MacManus Author Profile Page | February 23, 2008 1:23 AM

  • I think the comments like Karim’s is what Google needs most of all to actually beat Microsoft in the office space. If I were Google’s manager I would say: Give me three or four skilled AJAX developers (which I think Google has more than 3 or 4) and I’ll implement these things in a month plus a couple of months more for testing and polishing. That’s exactly what it’ll take. One problem could be with pasting images (not resizing/cropping – Picasaweb.google.com engine could easily handle this and it would be quite easy to make javascript calls to those functions). And that’s why Google would need Firefox (or some similar browser but for now Internet Explorer, Safari and Opera wouldn’t help much). It’s almost the same functionality that is used in dragdropupload Firefox extension. It would be much harder to do with Internet Explorer. But that could be another way to make IE’s market share shrink. Actually, almost all those things could be done through Firefox extensions. So it could be like you visit GDocs and it says “this app is better with Firefox – download our Firefox bundle with all the extensions installed – and be happy :)”. And then those extensions would update automatically like other Firefox extensions do.In fact, for making its internet applications really rich, Google really needs something like Firefox. Not everything can be done with AJAX. They could go Flash but it seems that it doesn’t serve their strategy, although with Flex going open source this can change. But Flash wouldn’t solve the problems like image pasting while Firefox would.

    Posted by: alibloomdido | February 23, 2008 3:10 AM

  • I work with staff in 5 different countries on a daily basis and while it’s natural to start by comparing features and price, based on my experience Google Docs solves a totally different problem for me and my team. The ability to collaborate and publish documents provides tremendous value which simply does not exist in the MS Office domain (and likely never will).Another bonus is that the Google Docs provide much cleaner markup/formats for sharing information across the web and with other systems (e.g. publish, CRM, RSS, CM, Blogs, etc).

    I use both, but more often I find I’m reaching out for Google Docs because that’s where our new activities seem to get started these days.

    My original expectation of web based office tools providing a similar experience to the desktop was low. However, I’ve found they generally work much better than expected and have encountered no serious issue that has been frustrating or inhibited productivity as of yet.

    Posted by: Steve | February 23, 2008 6:19 AM

  • The wierd part is that having more developers doesn’t seem to equal outputting better solutions.
    Microsoft has insane amounts of developers and they still produces nothing but shite on the web.
    If Google docs are failing, it’s hardly for lack of developers – it’s something fundamentally wrong with the approach they have chosen.
    I’ve seen stuff like this done better by a single guy.. maybe Google has *to many* developers?Posted by: Mikael Bergkvist | February 23, 2008 6:46 AM

  • The biggest issue with Office is the move away from the.doc standard – interoperability gone in the blink of an eye. Every time I save a doc in 07 I have to remember to save it in a format the rest of the world uses.Posted by: John Sutton | February 23, 2008 7:01 AM

  • “… that’s about $1.12 per PC per month for the MS Office suite.”How about $0/month for OpenOffice, which has all the functionality you point out. AND it renders legacy Word documents better than Word itself. AND it had ODF support for true document-format compatibility. Etc. Leaving out OpenOffice from the equation is a little disingenuous, don’t you think?

    Posted by: Belzecue | February 23, 2008 7:24 AM

  • Buzzword does a number of things that Google Docs doesn’t:http://about.buzzword.com/

    Posted by: enefekt | February 23, 2008 9:48 AM

  • Regardless of whether or not Karim was right, you have to admit that it can be extremely frustrating to use not just Google Docs, but a few of the other online word processors! Karim just pointed out a few of those faults.Posted by: Corvida | February 23, 2008 9:50 AM

  • Thank you! About time someone spoke truth to the church. The product is really “NOT” that amazing.Posted by: HeyHewy | February 23, 2008 11:19 AM

  • The scary thing for MS is that Google docs is perfect for so many small tasks, quick and dirty stuff.Since it’s useful for these micro projects it really gives Google a chance to train people to like and adopt their software more over time.

    I own a full copy of the latest Office, but still you Google docs for lots of little things that it’s better for.

    It’s a great wedge for them to chip away with as their apps mature.

    Posted by: old greeting card guy | February 23, 2008 1:06 PM

  • They BOTH suck, but for different reasons.When I work with Google Docs, I recognize that I can’t expect to do paper formatting in there or make it look nice, but for collaboration, I still can’t believe that since 1996, Microsoft hasn’t figured out how to make asynchronous collaboration not suck.

    I wouldn’t go beyond treating Google Docs as a sophisticated text editor though.

    I also end up using it as a low-overhead wiki-style thing for coordinating with others.

    Posted by: Jeff Wong | February 23, 2008 1:09 PM

  • I use Excel all the time for work and it trumps any online free “office suite” type program.I use Google Docs for my online projects; but at my career-job I would be lost without Excel, specifically.

    Posted by: Gary | February 23, 2008 7:26 PM

  • Steve said: “The ability to collaborate and publish documents provides tremendous value which simply does not exist in the MS Office domain (and likely never will). “Steve,
    Does Office Live Workspaces provide the type of collaboration feature that you are after? You can:
    -check-out files (i.e. lock them)
    -share them with other people
    -Specify read-only or read-write access to a file
    -view files online
    -see a version history and who produced each version.

    That is all available today, although its in beta.

    -Jamie

    Posted by: JamieT | February 23, 2008 9:22 PM

  • Andy: It’s quite possible Karim is right (those features didn’t work for him) and you are (they work for you), either because Google updated the code in between his attempt and yours, or because of different browsers. It’s easy to get platform-specific bugs like that creeping in and going unnoticed for a while; for that matter, I suspect the fact clicking above and to the right of this text box blanks the three text fields above it is not considered a feature, and may not happen in other browsers!Crucially, though, Google Docs has some neat features Word simply doesn’t, as well as the other way around. I suspect it would be a lot easier for Google to add (or perhaps simply enable and debug) the features Karim complains about than for MS to add what Word lacks. Even if Google Docs is pretty basic for now, I suspect it will be catching Word pretty quickly: a year from now, I bet the list of shortcomings will be a lot shorter.

    Posted by: James | February 24, 2008 12:27 AM

  • I couldn’t agree more although I think the argument would be that Google Docs is poised to seize the market once it can do all of those things while remaining secure, stable and fast both on and offline. Gears is already opening that door.Posted by: Social Mediation | February 24, 2008 2:18 AM

  • Virus threats and past MS performance on the virus issue is why I never use MS products to read email..If MS employees want to debate the virus issue at least show some damn awareness of their own past poor performance on that fucking ISSUE!

    Posted by: Fred Grott | February 24, 2008 2:23 AM

  • It was probably a brief fleeting moment, but still a notable minor milestone in Web 2.0 when Karim’s comment (to be precise, Richard’s highlighting of Karim’s comment) got onto the Techmeme front page. And that comment was picked up by an A-List Blogger (Robert Scoble) as well as others.The debate that started here was sparked because a commenter took a contrary view to an increasingly accepted wisdom. The fact is nobody knows how this will pan out, this is all just opinion; but opinion and discussion does shape the future.

    One key thread was picked up by a Blogger who represents Adobe. He picks up on the fact that if you drew a magic quadrant with “control over presentation/formatting” on one axis and “rapid online collaboration” on the other, neither MS Office or GOOG Apps would be in the magic quadrant. The Adobe point (yes, this a pitch, but a good one IMHO) was that you can start with GOOG Apps and finish with Adobe. When it comes to “control over presentation/formatting” Adobe is way ahead of MS (who is way ahead of GOOG).

    It would be interesting to see if that turns into some integration or collaboration. Maybe Adobe should hire Karim as an advisor?

    Posted by: bernard lunn | February 24, 2008 4:46 AM

  • How about Zoho as an alternative to Google Docs or MS Office ?? http://mp.blogs.com/mp/2008/02/s-19.htmlPosted by: Abhishek | February 24, 2008 6:09 AM

  • The one big thing you ignore is the collaboration aspects, which is what most people I’ve talked to who use Google Docs heavily use it for. For that aspect alone it has the serious potential to be an office killer, not to mention the access to documents from any computer and the numerous other advantages you fail to mention.When you only look at the stuff Google Docs can’t do, sure it doesn’t compare to MS Office in terms of features. Turn that on its head though and you start to see where MS Office is seriously, seriously lacking and antiquated.

    Posted by: Matt Woodward | February 24, 2008 6:50 AM

  • Google Docs sucks. I’ll never use them again, as I wrote in this post: http://dawnkey.wordpress.com/2008/02/01/google-docs-stinks/Posted by: Dawn | February 24, 2008 7:24 AM

  • Now, since when ReadWriteWeb publish something without checking the facts?Let’s see: “Now insert a table. Now grab the edge of a column and resize the column. Oh wait, you can’t. Now delete one of the columns. Oh wait, you can’t.”

    What? Heck, this is nonsense crap. Google Document has an excellent WYSIWYYG table support. You can do all that and a lot more.

    And what this commenter fails to note, and maybe because he is biased, is that Google Docs is used as a communication tool. How do you do a school paper with 4 other peers, everybody using an different operational system and working remotely, in Microsoft World? With Google Docs its very simple.

    Posted by: Usr | February 24, 2008 7:39 AM

  • Others already had said, and I agree. To format complex documents, is still necessary an desktop app. Until now, almost none online editor has the capabilities of offices.But for other types of problems, which need collaboration, the online solution are more suitable. I’m using the two in a daily basis selecting the best solution for the problem.

    But for the problems stated by him, and for the majority of people who need an offline office suite, openoffice is sufficient and don’t have to spent U$120.

    Posted by: Antonio | February 24, 2008 8:53 AM

  • Karim is mostly right… for now.and because he’s “right”, Microsoft will keep ignoring GoogleDocs until it becomes “good enough” to take over a decent chunk of market share. and when that starts happening, it will mark the beginning of a very long slow decaying slide for Microsoft. in fact, it’s already begun.

    >>works great and has tons more features than Google Docs

    half-right. Office works ‘ok’, but not perfect. and it has tons of features that i hardly ever use. however, it doesn’t have good sharing features, which i do use. finally, i don’t buy products for having ‘lots of features’, i buy them for having lots of user benefits that meet my needs. one of those needs is simplicity.

    i’m not saying i’m ready to chuck Office out the window, and there are times i need more professional formatting. but on the flip side, there are plenty of times i don’t need all the feature bloat, and the sharing features outweigh all the rest of the other crap.

    perfection is the enemy of “good enough”.

    while microsoft keeps optimizing for more features, google is optimizing for good enough.

    just give it a few more years karim…

    – dmc

    Posted by: Dave Author Profile Page | February 24, 2008 9:29 AM

  • The problem with people like Karim and many others who have taken this post seriously is that they think Google Docs is a replacement for Microsoft Office. It is a wild assumption. First, Google doesn’t claim Google Docs to be a Microsoft replacement (at least, not yet). Second, Microsoft Office is not the only other office system. The only factor that is in play here (which is very much evident in the comment of Mr. Karim) is the success of Microsoft’s marketing. They have marketed Mcrosoft Office Suite in such a way that people’s minds are numbed to not think about anything other than Microsoft Office. It is the proof of Microsoft’s marketing success and not technological success. As geeks and analysts, we should be able to look beyond the marketing hype and dissect through the numbed mindset of ordinary non technical users. Anybody can see that Google Docs can solve the problems of 80% of the people. Out of the remaining 20% of the people, Open Office or Star Office or other Open Source office software like Abiword, etc. can solve the problems of 15%-18%. This leaves 2%-5% of people who wants many of the features that are exclusive to Microsoft Office. You cannot define success or failure of a product based on the needs of 2% – 5% of the people. If you take away the “mental numbness” of ordinary people due to Microsoft’s marketing efforts and its brand consolidation, you can easily see that 95-97% of the people can happily live their lives using non microsoft office products. If you take the “collaboration” aspect of online apps like Google Docs, you have a clear winner in Google Docs (Actually, Microsoft could have emerged as a clear winner in this case if only they had broken out of their blind love for traditional software products). Letz not hype a comment borne out of Microsoft’s marketing tactics. Letz dig deeper and determine success or failure based on the technical credentials of the products and thye requirements of majority of the users.Posted by: Krish | February 24, 2008 9:47 AM

  • I gave a shot to google docs a while back and then in excel it used to show error for my data = Sorry, there was an error while saving in javascript alert. I don’t quite remember speciality of my data but if the google programmer is here please remove all errors in javascript alerts..what can I do with that kind of error notification..I ended up copying content in email and sending over.Posted by: also the errors are horrible.. | February 24, 2008 11:02 AM

  • well, i think with google docs you can archive everything you need to get done for your professional work.when i am working on a document it usually doesn’t happen that i need to insert and resize an image every other paragraph.

    and changing fonts, come on, thats more for the myspace kind of user, in a professional document you usually don’t change fonts…

    so, imho google docs is already capable of replacing ms office if you intend to create a professional looking document, if you want to create the invitation for your 16th birthday party, then ms word is probably the way to go.

    Posted by: marc uhlig | February 24, 2008 11:21 AM

  • @27 -Right, because no technical document requires you to include screenshots and those images need to be resized so that the formatting doesn’t break?

    Yes, images are only for 16 year olds. Clueless.

    How about inserting Business Intelligence charts? How does Google Docs handle that? Printing labels? That’s three business functions I could think of in 15 seconds that Google Docs fails miserably on. Do we even need to continue at this point?

    Posted by: Hagrin | February 24, 2008 11:55 AM

  • I’m repeating this comment from the other thread, where discussion seems to have died down:It’s true that most users aren’t power users, and that many people only use basic functionality.

    But most of the things that Karim pointed out *are* very basic — these aren’t super advanced features.

    Moreover, when a large organization chooses a word processor (or spreadsheet or presentation tool) to standardize on, they make sure that the *power*users* are satisfied. They don’t say, “Well, 70% of the users won’t change column sizes in tables, so that feature isn’t important to us.” Instead, they say, “All word processors have basic functionality–let’s make sure that our dedicated word-processing people get the functionality *they* need and let that dictate which tool we use.”

    So power features do count.

    All that being said — Microsoft is getting its ass kicked in terms of collaboration. SharePoint is a very useful tool, and lots of organizations are getting tons out of it (and probably more could learn to), but it has nowhere near the ease of use and collaboration within documents that Google does.

    So if organizations need *lots* of internet-scale collaboration *and* have power users, where do they turn? At the moment, neither Google nor Microsoft has a great answer for that.

    So the question is, which can happen faster: can Google build out their feature set, or can Microsoft build out their collaboration story?

    I think Microsoft has the inside track here–they’ve got a decade and a half of features built into their suite–but it remains to be seen if they can actually beat Google to the finish line.

    Posted by: Dan | February 25, 2008 2:04 PM

  • I think Karim is bang on with his analysis here. But not only are there basic functions missing, the advanced features of Word are also important. It is a fallacy to think that nobody needs the advanced stuff that Word offers, and that all anybody needs is a basic text editor. Sure, some people only use basic stuff, but there are a lot of people who need business-level features.Anyway, Buzzword solves some (not all) of Karim’s issues, and I have done a quick comparison of the two here – http://tomscrace.blogspot.com/2008/02/buzzword-web-word-processor-weve-all.html

    Posted by: Tom Scrace | February 26, 2008 8:12 AM

  • Try your Docs test in Buzzword (about.buzzword.com) and see if it might come closer to your needs.Posted by: Rick Treitman | February 26, 2008 11:41 AM

  • The only complain I see here is copy and paste … I.e. the clipboard.Ray Ozzie talked last year about it here:
    http://rayozzie.spaces.live.com/default.aspx
    I bet Google ARE working on such a feature too.

    One idea – browser plugin, which can interact with both the OS and the Browsesr. And of course specifications for clipboard items. And Microsoft better put those clipboard office formats in public because the EU commission is watching and this time the fine it may pass the $1000000000 mark.

    Posted by: Stoicho | February 27, 2008 2:10 PM

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Why Google Apps is a Serious Threat to Microsoft Office

Written by Bernard Lunn / February 22, 2008 3:27 AM / 56 Comments
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This is the perspective of a “skeptical, later early adopter”; the sort of person who Microsoft needs to retain and should have been able to retain easily. I don’t spend time on productivity tools that may at some date make me more productive, but which today are just a frustrating time sink. That describes the majority of people. MS Office can be annoying, but it does work. So any serious alternative has to offer a significant advantage and at the same time make adoption a total breeze.

I think Google Apps has reached that point. The significant advantage is collaboration.

Since I started working on a new project where we all agreed to use Google Docs from the start, I have hardly used MS Office at all – even on other projects.

The lead product in Google Apps for me is their word processing product – i.e. the MS Word alternative. That may be because I am a wordsmith, but also because it is the most mature. I still use Excel, as Google Spreadsheet is both a pain to learn and not good enough for power users. Also there are better ways to collaborate with Excel, such as eXpresso. I don’t use Google Presentation, but that is because I am weaning myself off Powerpoint – as I think it is no longer the best presentation medium. If I want to persuade with words, I use words. If I want to persuade with multimedia, then it is time for video such as YouTube or maybe Seesmic and screencasting tools to show off an app. A PPT deck is very flat by contrast.

Google was very smart to take a loosely coupled approach. So I can use Document and ignore the others. I assume that the Spreadsheet product will be ready for prime time pretty soon. Google may buy/build services that make video plus screencasting plus a bit of standard presentation stuff a breeze for everyone. But until then, I can use Gmail and Documents and gradually get enticed into the other stuff.

The one big missing piece has been offline access. It was clear that Gears would enable this at some stage. It now appears that is not so far away. That will be a major driver for me to standardize more on Gmail; currently I split between Gmail and Outlook; and that is a pain to manage.

Not only is Google miles ahead of MS on collaboration, they have moved ahead on mobile access. I have long believed that mobile would be a key driver for Web Office. Now I can get access to my Docs from my Blackberry. When I switch to an iPhone with that bigger screen, I will be able to say “sayonara” to my laptop even more. In that world, MS Office looks like a real dinosaur.

The latest aha moment for me came when I started using Remember The Milk. I was very skeptical at first. The last thing I needed was the distraction of learning another way of managing to do lists; first to do, learn new way to list to do items, grrr! When I saw RTM load into Gmail as a sidebar I warmed. Then I saw that RTM was very mobile friendly and I was sold (well took the free version at any rate, I do feel I should send that $25 for Pro as Bob T. Monkey is clearly an amazing developer and a huge inspiration to coder-monkeys everywhere).

Seriously, the point is that Google Docs is a platform. The two smart people in Australia (Ed, what is it about you guys in the Southern Hemisphere?) who created RTM can plug into Docs as if they owned it.

The other platform out there for wordsmiths is WordPress. It’s free, open source, has a plug-in architecture and there is a Dummies book about the software (a sure sign of market traction). So the looming real battle is maybe Google Docs/Blogger versus WordPress. Or, Mozilla Thunderbird versus Gmail. Microsoft really does look like they have the classic “Innovator’s Dilemma“. I thought that Ray Ozzie’s mission was to cannibalize Office before somebody else did it; if that is the play, they are leaving it a bit late!

There is one other reason why Google will win this battle. They have the economic engine. I am not just talking about cross subsidization from their search engine cash cow; Google do that just like Microsoft did it from their Windows/Office cash cow. What is interesting is that Google has figured out how to make ads in Gmail at least vaguely relevant. Sure there is some dumb stuff there, but quite a few that are relevant. The point is that the search engine has more to work on, all of my text and not just my search query. Our expectations on search are so low, that just “not totally dumb and occasionally slightly relevant” gets a cheer. I have actually clicked on a Gmail ad.

They can clearly also insert ads in Docs. Do I care? It is a bit spooky, but as long as Google really takes the high road on privacy, I have the freedom to ignore and I may occasionally even find something useful. I assume I can always opt to pay a subscription and be ad free.

Solid economic engine, good on collaboration/mobile, increasingly mature/ready for prime time…Yes, Google Docs looks like a major winner.

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  • The most advantage think of using google services is to use online.

    But i dont think microsoft will go down for this.

    Posted by: Dizi | February 22, 2008 4:22 AM

  • i agree with dizi

    Posted by: Firma Rehberi | February 22, 2008 4:23 AM

  • Welcome to the party:

    http://www.geardiary.com/2008/01/26/is-google-apps-a-microsoft-office-killer/
    I dumped Microsoft Office for a month for a story on Geardiary — then dumped EXCHANGE at the end and have been using GMAIL (via Google for Domains) ever since.

    It is my opinion that Microsoft will quickly be forced to make some acquisitions to bolster their “Cloud” offerings.

    The current slates of Microsoft Live apps seem to mostly host your data off-site while largely serving to protect the mother load monopolistic Office Suite.

    However I think Microsoft is increasingly out of control. They can’t get a stable OS. PC Magazine has just reviewed the latest Apple Leopard OS calling it one of the best OS’s ever (paraphrasing).

    They’re not getting a lot of press about it — but I believe Microsoft is on the ropes with both OS and Office. This is going to become an increasingly bigger problem.

    Posted by: Wayne Schulz | February 22, 2008 4:45 AM

  • I’ve always beena fan of Google Docs. Not just because of the collaboration, but the ease of use. 8 times out of 10 when I type something its just a quick note. I dont need MS Word’s bells and whistles.

    Posted by: JohnofScribbleSheet | February 22, 2008 4:59 AM

  • true

    Posted by: shane | February 22, 2008 5:08 AM

  • Great post Bernard. I consider myself in the same adoption area, I don’t try out every new service, I wait until I can replace an existing one. I’ve tried out Google Aps before but at the beginning of this year made the switch. The bloated beast of Outlook is gone (except as middle ware to sync my iPhone and Gcal – can anyone figure out how to do this directly?). And my most pleasant surprise has been the effectiveness of Google Spreadsheets. It is really powerful and totally sufficient for multi-page pro-formas and relatively complex modeling. After skipping Outlook 2007 b/c I didn’t want to learn yet another new toolbar layout (thats all MS has left it seems), I’m very pleased w/ Google Apps and we are migrating the whole company to it.

    Chris

    Posted by: Chris Schultz | February 22, 2008 5:45 AM

  • The “aha” moment for most people will be when they need to share a document with someone else to complete a task. Forcing their hand a bit to use the app to collaborate with someone else.

    They quickly discover that there is something there that they’ve never had before and it was an effortless and very productive experience (unlike most new tools). Then they look back and notice that all the features they needed were there too. You can hear the “Hmmm…” from a block away.

    Posted by: Steve | February 22, 2008 5:55 AM

  • 🙂
    This is a very funny post. It seems as if you are praying for Google to win!

    My truth is that Google Docs and other copytheft products are toy apps for now. Noone serious in his work would depend on such kind of applications. It has a looooong way to go until the dinosaur-spreadsheet program (google powerpoint) does not consume 100% power for just setting the slide title

    Posted by: panefsky | February 22, 2008 5:57 AM

  • Great article. I also use docs, RTM, and WordPress and love them all! Great combination with my blackberry, but I am itching for an iPhone too!

    If “dummies” books are a sign of market traction then here is another point to add to your article.

    “Google Apps for Dummies.”
    http://www.amazon.com/Google-Apps-Dummies-Computer-Tech/dp/0470189584/ref=pd_bbs_sr_1?ie=UTF8&s=books&qid=1202523746&sr=8-1

    Posted by: Jeff VanDrimmelen | February 22, 2008 5:58 AM

  • Microsoft Office has evolved into a very complete set of tools for a professional writer or professional financial analyst willing to invest heavily in a long and steep learning curve.

    These apps have become so feature loaded that they define the term “Bloatware”

    Once upon a time there was a nifty little sports car that customers loved.
    The marketing guys figured that they could charge a lot of money for an upgrade.
    And so a family sedan replaced those neat little sports cars
    The marketing guys figured that they could charge a lot of money for an upgrade.
    And so a large SUV was born
    The marketing guys figured that they could charge a lot of money for an upgrade.
    And so the SUV became a bus
    The marketing guys figured that they could charge a lot of money for an upgrade.
    And so the Bus became a tandem axle cross country truck

    And now customers are driving that truck back and forth to the super market.

    Posted by: Dave Small | February 22, 2008 7:00 AM

  • # 10, thanks. I may invest in that Dummies, clearly lots of productivity tricks to lear.
    # 11, yes but when you want to present and send online, you put it into PDF. So Word and PPT are no longer the final output, just an interim part of the process. That is a weak position.
    BTW, if Microsoft buys Yahoo they will have great Outlook like email and that may change the game.
    # 9, no I don’t have a “home team”. I don’t work for either or have any interest in either. This is spectator sport and maybe investing game but I can assure that my buying/selling GOOG or MSFT would not keep anybody at those companies up at night 🙂

    Posted by: bernard lunn | February 22, 2008 7:33 AM

  • I am using http://spanningsync.com/ to Sync my Google Calendar with my Mac iCal — which in turn syncs to my iPhone.

    Also, on the Blackberry side – Google has a synch for the Blackberry Calendar to Google Calendar.

    http://www.google.com/mobile/sync/index.html

    It is my belief that Microsoft is in a lot more serious trouble in the Office arena than is commonly recognized.

    Posted by: Wayne Schulz | February 22, 2008 7:33 AM

  • “I think Google Apps has reached that point. The significant advantage is collaboration.”

    It’s important to collaborate, given particularly, That MSFT has been slowly lurching in the direction of collaboration tools (for INTRA-nets, at least) with their product “Sharepoint”, which competes with Lotus Notes. Needless to say, on the open Web, one would be insane to trust any personal data to MSFT because of their horrendous record on data security– and personal security. Thus, GOOG has an opportunity to establish a strong, early beachhead.

    Posted by: Tom B | February 22, 2008 8:37 AM

  • Open a Google doc. Paste an image. Oh, that’s right, you can’t Ctrl-C copy, Ctrl-V PASTE an image into a document. Ok, so INSERT an image. Now proportionally resize the image so it retains its aspect ratio. Oh, that’s right, you can’t. Now crop the image. Oh that’s right, you can’t.

    Now insert a table. Now grab the edge of a column and resize the column. Oh wait, you can’t. Now delete one of the columns. Oh wait, you can’t.

    Now type some text and select it. Choose one of the fonts on your computer instead of the six fonts Google licensed from Microsoft. Oh wait, you can’t. Create a new paragraph style. Oh wait, you can’t. Change the font color and background on some text. Now copy that formatting to another paragraph. Oh wait, you can’t.

    Now do a find and replace on some text. Hmmm, why is that feature marked as “experimental?” Oh, because you don’t get to choose which instances get replaced, it just replaces all of them. And there’s no way to undo afterwards.

    People just love to use software where some incredibly basic feature like “search & replace” is marked with “WARNING! EXPERIMENTAL! Use eye protection! This could blow up in your face!

    I’m sure Google docs works for you and your needs, but for very basic stuff, Google docs is chock full of FAIL.

    You “assume” the Spreadsheet product will be “ready for prime time pretty soon,” but do not tell us why you think so. Do Google products usually come flying out of beta?

    You tell us it’s all gonna be great when Google Gears finally kicks in and you can work without an Internet connection, then you point to a review where the guys says, yeah, they enabled “experimental” offline use, but, uh, you can’t actually edit documents offline. I assume this will also be done “pretty soon?”

    Then you gush about how Google Docs is a “platform” — don’t you remember Microsoft Word is too? Do you not remember macro viruses? When malware authors realize they too “can plug into Google Docs as if they owned it” then there’s a chance they’re gonna 0wn you.

    You talk about being able to view Google Docs on your Blackberry, when mobile device support for Microsoft Word documents is already pretty commonplace.

    Finally you tell us that “Google will win this battle” is because “they have the economic engine,” meaning, they have advertising in all their stuff. Yay capitalism. I know the last six times I used a word processor, I kept thinking it needed more advertising.

    You undermine your own argument by adding that you assume you “can always opt to pay a subscription and be ad free.” LOL! Order now and get a free set of steak knives? Now how much would you pay? But wait, there’s more….

    The irony is you could go out right now, and get a whole Microsoft Office suite (Word, Excel, Powerpoint, OneNote) for $120 at Newegg, and you can install it on three different computers. And it works great and has tons more features than Google Docs. And it has no ads. Imagine that!

    $120 / 3 computers = $40 per computer. Assuming you upgrade every 3 years, that’s about $1.12 per PC per month for the MS Office suite. Why would I spend THAT kind of crazy money for software I use day-in, day-out when I can bang my head “for free” against the lame “experimental” features of Google Docs?

    You started off your post saying “MS Office can be annoying, but it does work.” By “be annoying,” I assume you mean “cost money.” I mean, you’ll get around to coughing up $25 for RTM someday, right?

    You said “If I want to persuade with words, I use words.” Next time maybe you should try different words. 🙂

    Posted by: Karim | February 22, 2008 9:17 AM

  • #6, I agree with you on the effectiveness of Google spreadsheet. I started using it for collaborative tasks last year. Now I find myself using it for most of my personal and work related tasks.

    With better group management, I can see it replacing Microsoft Office for small businesses.

    Posted by: Chetan | February 22, 2008 9:30 AM

  • #14, I agree with you totally Karim.

    Posted by: mido | February 22, 2008 9:52 AM

  • Karim, I love a good debate, so I will unpick your arguments and reply.

    Cut & Paste not as good as Word. Yep, I am sure you are right. Who cares? When I want production quality it is onto PDF tools. But that is a tiny part of the time that goes into creating a doc; the biggie is collaboration. I know that is not true for everybody. If I was writing a novel alone in my attic I would use Word. Thats not a big use case.

    Yes I do expect continuous and rapid improvement from Google as a) its early in the R&D cycle for them b) they have the $$ to invest c) the prize is big d) they seem pretty smart to me. Wanna bet against those?

    By annoying, no I did not mean “costs money”. Zero upfront cost is needed to get people to experiment but the cost vs productivity makes $120 or similar totally irrelevant once somebody has decided it is useful. If the ads do bug me (today they don’t) I will happily pay.

    What bugs me? a) instability, Word is a terrible crasher b) lots of overhead on start-up c) lousy at collaboration d) lousy at mobile.

    Posted by: bernard lunn | February 22, 2008 10:02 AM

  • Everything you like now I liked 6 months ago.

    Google Docs is not the platform – Google is the platform and Google Docs is the consumer of the platform.

    Posted by: Mark Bean | February 22, 2008 10:18 AM

  • I have to agree with the author – The ability to colaborate is the primary reason my company uses googles online service.

    we have encountered a few hiccups along the way, and I think Karim in particular has made some good points as well. Google IS notorious for an endless Beta cycle.

    My hunch is that google docs will continue to be expanded upon and improved, but I would not be so quick to declare Google the winner in the short term.

    Posted by: Automotive SEO Guy | February 22, 2008 10:21 AM

  • “Cut & Paste not as good as Word. Yep, I am sure you are right.”

    Just to keep karim honest: Cut and Paste doesn’t always work in MS-Office, either. I have observed numerous occasions where 1) Word wouldn’t paste into Excel 2) IE wouldn’t let me “copy” to the clipboard. Sure, GOOG apps may be LESS mature than that. But, for goodness sake, MSFT has been trying to copy “cut and paste” from the Macintosh since 1984 and they STILL haven’t got it to an acceptable level of reliability.

    Posted by: Tom B | February 22, 2008 10:25 AM

  • I agree largely with what you say, but I think Microsoft’s recent acquisitions indicate that they are about to step into top gear in this area, so don’t count them out yet.

    I have written more extensively on the subject here – http://tomscrace.blogspot.com/2008/02/google-apps-threat-but-dont-count.html

    Posted by: Tom Scrace | February 22, 2008 10:34 AM

  • I believe you forgot to mention this, MS has a mobile office ‘access’, but only if you stick to their products: Windows, Office Suite, ActiveSync & Windows Mobile.

    Edit your documents on the computer, save them on the ActiveSync synchronized folder, email them, or access them via ftp/http/wtver from your windows mobile device, make your edits to word/excel/powerpoint/onenote and send them back to the desktop.

    Posted by: lmjabreu | February 22, 2008 10:48 AM

  • Bernard, you mentioned that you use “PDF tools.” I’m not sure if you mean Adobe Acrobat specifically, but just so you know, the last few times I saw anyone have trouble with Word, it was because of the Acrobat add-in, which is notoriously buggy.

    You originally said in your post that “MS Office can be annoying, but it works.”

    Then I said that by “be annoying,” you must mean “costs money.” (ha, ha)

    Then you replied that what you meant by “annoying” was that it was unstable, that it was a “terrible crasher.”

    So MS Office is unstable and crashes, but it works? That makes absolutely no sense.

    Where is the line for the Google Kool-Aid? I hear it has a bit of a rat-poisony aftertaste compared to the Microsoft Kool-Aid. But hey, what do you want for free? 😉

    Posted by: Karim | February 22, 2008 11:35 AM

  • Microsoft sharepoint is actually very good at collaboration.

    Posted by: Alex | February 22, 2008 12:18 PM

  • My needs for presentations aren’t very substantial, and I kind of like Google Presentations. I may use that some, or I may just stick with PowerPoint.

    As far as Google’s “word processor” goes, I am genuinely horrified at the inadequacy. Mainly, at the almost total lack of any semantic information that you can include in your document using the styles. The only semantic styles available are paragraph, h1, h2, and h3. HTML has a pretty effective system for encoding semantic information and associating style information, and Word 2007’s is finally excellent with the inclusion of style sets and inline styles in addition to the traditional block styles. In Word, you can define any semantic styles you want and encode detailed semantic information. Google? You get semantic header styles. Woo hoo.

    Posted by: Andrew Norris | February 22, 2008 12:19 PM

  • 🙂

    Posted by: Şiir | February 22, 2008 12:32 PM

  • I’d like to add that Google is on record saying that Google Docs, Spreadsheets and Presentations are not meant to satisfy the MS Office power users, i.e. those that utilize the heavy-duty analytics capabilities of Excel and the advanced formatting options in Word and PowerPoint. GOOG is constantly evaluating utility vs. clunkiness. 90% of MS Word users use only 10% of the features and I bet it’s similar for Excel and PP. Google Docs is aiming to replicate the most useful features that appeal to the majority of users.

    Posted by: Andrew Miller | February 22, 2008 12:50 PM

  • # 27, nail on head IMHO

    Posted by: bernard lunn | February 22, 2008 1:03 PM

  • This is the case of a very particular user: very frequent collaboration, very often in need of on the road access. Mainstream users are more likely to write on Ms/OpenOffice regularly and occasionally use GDocs for collaboration. Apart from the social functionality (which rocks) GDocs can’t be compared to feature rich apps like ms/open office. It’s always web2.0 mantra: take a good web app, take advantage of it but then start irrationally using it beyond its limits.. 🙂

    Posted by: Citizento Ni | February 22, 2008 1:12 PM

  • Karim, very interesting and well-versed posts! It is important to hear from people like you who has an educated opinion and, above all, a point-of-view different from the one adopted by the very vocal GOOG fans. Many people easily accepts the popular view (e.g. “”GOOG is good, GOOG is great”) and jumps on the bandwagon too quickly. So, it is useful to see a contrarian view, such as yours, stick out of the wave of cheers.

    Posted by: Dice Lu | February 22, 2008 1:29 PM

  • Bernard Lunn makes some excellent points here, and this is also why I think GNU/Linux has an advantage on the desktop going forward with Web 2.0. Users’ biggest reluctance has been a web-only app or suite. However, when a local version of the same is offered (as he mentioned with Google Gears) as Zoho now does, there is no downside, and suddenly you’re not dependent on a connection to continue working on your files.

    Just as Vista doesn’t offer any significant advantage over GNU/Linux on the desktop, Office 2007 fails that same test by virtue of MS-OOXML. Google Apps and ODF are a perfect marriage.

    Posted by: Zaine Ridling | February 22, 2008 2:29 PM

  • You nailed it. The key is collaboration. Google Apps might lack the bells and whistles of MS office but this is Web 2.0 age. Nobody cares about bloated software with bells and whistles. It is all about collaboration. If I can sit in US and work with a guy in China or India on a document at the same time, what is the point in having the bells and whistles which can’t be heard in India or China or, even, New York. Collaboration is the key and Google got it right. The end of feature rich apps is not just a trend in Web 2.0 era. It started the day Google released http://www.google.com. People started ignoring bells and whistles on that day when Google was launched. People wanted apps that will give them what they want. They got fed up with apps that tell them what they should do. Google started it with search and extended it to apps like Gmail, Google Docs, Google Reader, etc.. In their quest to make their cash cow fatter and fatter, Microsoft missed a golden opportunity to understand what people actually wanted long back. Google Docs is just the one of the last few nails in Microsoft coffin.

    Posted by: krishnan.subramanian.name Author Profile Page | February 22, 2008 3:54 PM

  • Software loaded from CD to every computer. How quaint.

    Wouldn’t it be nice not to have to be tied to a specific monopolized platform? Run the software through a common open platform like a web browser.

    Oh wait Microsoft doesn’t have that. The best they can do is synchronize to their monopolistic platform.

    Posted by: Wayne Schulz | February 22, 2008 4:31 PM

  • Now with OOXML as a back end for Microsoft documents, I wouldn’t be surprised to see a nifty (yet maybe limited) Sliverlight Online Office appear soon. It will be combined with online storage, collaboration, and integrate smoothly with existing Microsoft Office products.

    I love Google Docs but there are a lot of Microsoft Office users out there. Its a far smoother transition that Google Docs-like features appear in the next version of Word and “just work” with users existing documents and work flow.

    Posted by: Johnx | February 22, 2008 4:36 PM

  • I’m confused. Every time I read an article like this one extolling Google Docs I have to wonder, is the author using a different version than the one that shows up on my screen? Unless there’s a bunch of submenus that I’ve missed there’s not so much there, there.

    And what is there doesn’t work so well. Formatting becomes a nightmare. I ended up with formatting that absolutely nothing would remove. I often could not reformat text (font, font size, font color, line justification) and even deleting the text and starting over did no good. Like Dracula rising from the crypt the old formatting would reappear.

    And why do they think the left margin should be a handfull of pixels from the edge of the window? And how do you change margin width?

    Can anyone claim that Docs has a quarter of the features of Word (buggy though they sometimes are)? Zoho had similar formatting issues although I thought it was better than Google overall.

    If you need to compute in the cloud, must do the new thing, or have to avoid Microsoft and advertise it proudly at least use Buzzword–the features it offers at least seem to work, so far anyway. And it is very easy on the eyes.

    (That brings up another oddity. Google seems to be favored by many hipsters, avant garde types, people in the know who tend to be sharply critical on these issues, and yet all Google apps get a pass on aesthetics even though they look as if they were designed by a Soviet apparatchik who emigrated to Miami Beach–plain and dull, awkward, heavy fonts, busy layout, and with all that seaside motel robin’s egg blue, or is it a blander shade of turquoise?

    I defy anyone to guess how many different link styles there are on any one page–buttons, underlined text, boldfaced text, not-underlined, not-bold-faced text–all sitting happily next to each other in a row of options. It’s a jumble with no styling cues to lead the eye and help make sense of the page.)

    Posted by: John Kilian | February 23, 2008 12:53 AM

  • I thought the article was great. The greatest advantage to Google Docs in my opinion is accessability. You can never find a document as quick using MS Office – even if it stored on your own computer.
    I agree that Docs miss some very nice features, like being able to do a word count on a selected part of the text and not the entire document. There are tons of those “small nice features”.
    On the other hand, let’s be honest. Word is terrible for doing something out of the ordinary. Sure you can insert pictures and do tables, but it is not reliable. It often mess up the document.
    Even for the simplest layout tasks – I find myself instantly leaving Word and use some real programs like Indesign. That’s not something everyone can do of course, but Word should never be used for layout.
    Word might seem like it is easy to format texts, but in reality it is as bad as Google Docs. And using Word to format HTML? Please, the crappy HTML produced by that program should never be published on any webpage.
    For me it comes down to an easy word processor and for that purpose Google is the best because it does not tie me down to one computer, it stores multiple versions, autosaves and can be shared with others easily.
    Word has grown to complex. I have several times had to help my father after some setting had gone wrong inside a menu. I have found some settings in multiple places, causing confliciting effect. So don’t tell me Word is bug free – it is packed with them. But since there are so many features, you could use it for years without running in to one of the bugs…
    But I am looking forward to Docs adding some more features, especially on the Spreadsheet. On the other hand – adding to much features would inevitibly lead to a more complex program that would be as messy as word. You can’t have both worlds really… 🙂

    Posted by: SD | February 23, 2008 4:13 AM

  • Just wait until Google builds tasks into Google Calendar natively. It’s a question of when, not if.

    Posted by: Scott Mace Author Profile Page | February 23, 2008 5:39 AM

  • Google Apps appeals to students and users new to office app products.

    Large companies want uniformity, compatiblity, and control across the platform. Google Apps won’t make any inroads to business until the functionality is that of Microsoft products.

    Posted by: Pet Food Man | February 23, 2008 8:19 AM

  • Any article that talks about the lack of collaboration through Microsoft’s Office suite and doesn’t even mention the word SharePoint anywhere can’t be taken seriously. Not only does Microsoft offer their enterprise Portal solution, but they do offer a “free” WSS option which allows for advanced development (webparts, workflows) and one major difference over anything Google will EVER offer …

    YOU control your data.

    The simple fact that enterprise data will be stored outside company firewalls and internal networks will doom Google’s office suite at the enterprise level. Can you really trust a company to control your data after it already parses your emails so it can display relevant ads and who has simply “turned off services” such as the SOAP API without giving users an equivalent?

    So let’s see where we stand right now –
    1) MSFT does in fact an online/web based collaboration system which is actually superior in functionality (although it does need significant improvements in cross browser rendering) and let’s users still control their data.
    2) A far superior offline product
    3) Far more functional products
    4) A wider range of products including Visio, Project, etc.

    Didn’t MSFT also just report good numbers during their last earnings report? That’s right, they did led by their Office suite.

    This article, and the author comments, is nothing more than wishful thinking and it will be quite a few more years until the Office suite is threatened.

    Posted by: Hagrin | February 23, 2008 1:47 PM

  • #14, try to right-click somewhere on a Google doc (say, on an image, a table, a column, a cell, a row) you’ll be surprised at how many features you might have missed and marked as “impossible” in Google Docs (plus image resizing while keeping the ratio).

    Posted by: WindPower | February 23, 2008 4:22 PM

  • Collaboration is a key. That’s a good point. Another, maybe even more critical, turning point will be the e-paper display. A lot of MS Office features are for formatting. Why are they there? They are (were?) for printing. To print pretty paper documents for a meeting. As we print less and less on papers, we won’t need so many of them. I already print much less than a few years ago. When e-paper displays reach a critical mass, formatting features will become add-ons rather than core features. So, if I were Google, I would not bother to improve those features.

    Posted by: hyokon | February 24, 2008 4:44 AM

  • # 39, Microsoft’s insistance on collaboration going through Sharepoint is an excellent example of how they have gone wrong. Microsoft made it big by empowering the individual with a PC, compared to mainframe/minicomputer controlled apps. When the PC finally found acceptance by IT, Microsoft became the corporate “you never got fired for buying…” successor to IBM and they lost their focus on the individual. What they forget and Google (and WordPress, Remember The Milk and other “non-enterprise worthy” apps) knows is that enterprises are made up of many individuals who “vote with their mouse”.

    Posted by: bernard lunn | February 24, 2008 4:53 AM

  • “$120 / 3 computers = $40 per computer”??? – we call that kind of pricing PIRATING.

    Posted by: kevin | February 24, 2008 8:04 AM

  • I didn’t know that.

    Posted by: nils | February 24, 2008 11:42 AM

  • #39, did you even read the article? Your comments have nothing to do with what was presented. Oh btw, do you think your data is safe with MS products? Are you that naive?

    Posted by: Raider Nation | February 24, 2008 2:26 PM

  • Graphical mainframe computing is sure something isn’t it?

    #37 you are spot on.
    Task management and workflow are the two emerging arenas, and amazingly no common web tools seem to offer them as part of groupware. (google, zoho, yahoo, msn, (horde))

    One question though, how does one administer roles and group file access among the shared documents? There doesn’t seem to be the idea even of folders and roles?

    Posted by: g8orade | February 24, 2008 2:37 PM

  • One other note, does anyone know if KDE and related KProducts, particularly office, runs on the net in a collaborative way?

    It seems to be lurking quietly out there in 2008 building some momentum also.

    Until any spreadsheet has a million rows and can do pivot tables like Excel, it’ll be no competitor. Just like from Oracle now, we’ll dump it into Excel Pivot engine for analysis, then do something else to share it.

    Posted by: g8orade | February 24, 2008 2:41 PM

  • # 47. We used to use Excel for “reporting” purposes. Very cumbersome process that is also vulnerable to errors. Use a reporting tool like Crystal and point it at your database. Your end users will be amazed. Note to any serious application person, excel is a bandaid, get a real reporting tool.

    Posted by: Update | February 24, 2008 3:07 PM

  • @ Karim
    > Open a Google doc. Paste an image.
    > Oh, that’s right, you can’t Ctrl-C copy, Ctrl-V PASTE an image into a document.

    Personally, i can copy-paste images into docs from (for example)
    http://images.google.com/images?q=tree
    Drag from one side to the other of most images on the web & copy, paste works a treat 🙂
    Also – hold down ctrl to keep image aspect 😉
    Unfortunately, standard desktop image files don’t work so well & tables are rather disappointing 😦

    nice to hear someone argueing the points out, though
    Thanks,
    – imma

    Posted by: imma | February 25, 2008 4:43 AM

  • Richard et al,

    In an attempt to sway my way into the “comment of the day” category I had two option. Firstly to attempt to coerce utilising the parochial card. That is – awarding to a fellow Kiwi would be the decent, honest and, dare I say it, Hillary-esque way to do things.

    I then remembered that you’re building an international play here and thoughts of parochialism must be as far from you mind as…… the summit of Everest to continue a theme.

    So plan B. I’ll pen a witty, yet thought provoking response to articulate my take on the subject. To this end…. read on (or click on the link if you prefer….)

    http://diversity.net.nz/office-productivity-apps-a-rebuttal/2008/02/26/

    Ladies and Gentlemen,

    Our previous correspondent told us that Google docs is full of fail. While his grammar would suggest otherwise, the substance of his comment deserves response. Without wanting to mix metaphors here, I think we have a combination both of failing to compare apples with apples, and not seeing the wood for the trees.

    Apples with Apples

    Google docs is a very new offering that is trying to primarily be a collaborative tool. Contrary to what the previous comments would have you believe, it doesn’t intend to recreate MS Office in all its bloated functionality, rather it seeks to create a quick, intuitive and easily utilised offering. It is also SaaS and as such has the ability to be upgraded on the fly, with new features rolled out at will.

    Compare this if you will to MS Office which has been in existence for decades, is primarily about creating the purty-est docs possible rather than collaboration, has a relatively steep learning cycle and has multi year release intervals. Get my drift here? They’re two different beasts entirely. Fact is that at this point in time people may well utilise both solutions, one where speed and agility are paramount and one were feature bloat is needed.

    While I’m guilty in the past of having prophesied GDoc’s ascendency at MS Office’s expense, I need to clarify that my contention was based on GDocs gaining more functionality to put it in a position where it provided everything imperative that MS Office does, but in a collaboration-enabled setting.

    The wood for the trees

    Now hyperbole comes to the fore. We’re talking culture shift here. Paradigm change. This one is big.

    GDocs is an example of where the future of computing and collaboration will be – that’s not a functionality discussion, it’s an existential one. While it is entirely valid to argue for or against GDocs based on functionality, this is a completely different argument from the one broached by the original poster: namely why Google docs is a serous threat to MS Office. It is NOT a threat because of what it does or doesn’t do at this point in time. It IS however a threat because it embodies the agility, speed, flexibility and, dare I say it, organic-ness of what will become the norm in the computing future.

    For all these reasons ladies and gentlemen, I can only but concur with the original author. Google docs IS a serious threat to Microsoft Office.

    Thank you

    Posted by: Ben Kepes | February 25, 2008 12:33 PM

  • It’s true that most users aren’t power users, and that many people only use basic functionality.

    But most of the things that Karim pointed out *are* very basic — these aren’t super advanced features.

    Moreover, when a large organization chooses a word processor (or spreadsheet or presentation tool) to standardize on, they make sure that the *power*users* are satisfied. They don’t say, “Well, 70% of the users won’t change column sizes in tables, so that feature isn’t important to us.” Instead, they say, “All word processors have basic functionality–let’s make sure that our dedicated word-processing people get the functionality *they* need and let that dictate which tool we use.”

    So power features do count.

    All that being said — Microsoft is getting its ass kicked in terms of collaboration. SharePoint is a very useful tool, and lots of organizations are getting tons out of it (and probably more could learn to), but it has nowhere near the ease of use and collaboration within documents that Google does.

    So if organizations need *lots* of internet-scale collaboration *and* have power users, where do they turn? At the moment, neither Google nor Microsoft has a great answer for that.

    So the question is, which can happen faster: can Google build out their feature set, or can Microsoft build out their collaboration story?

    I think Microsoft has the inside track here–they’ve got a decade and a half of features built into their suite–but it remains to be seen if they can actually beat Google to the finish line.

    Posted by: Dan | February 25, 2008 12:44 PM

  • This blog post confirms that Google Fan Boys are no better then Apple fan boys.

    They will take shit and keep using the product even if there are better products in the market.

    Hey Bernard Lunn, how much google paid you for writing this BIASED “OPINION”? Come on be honest.

    Posted by: Ha ha | February 25, 2008 8:00 PM

  • I think some people need the features MS Word gives them. Some don’t. MSFT fan boys are just as brainwashed as Mac and Google fans. I’ve heard comments over & over for the past 10 years how MS will crush Linux and vice versa. Haven’t happen yet. So I guess everybody is wrong.

    As for me, since I’ve started using Open Office and Google Docs 18 months ago I haven’t touched Word. For my personal draft docs I can access them almost everywhere. I take documents created in Office at work from others and do my edits in OO.org and pass them back. Nobody knows the difference. The PDF output in OO.org works great, and it’s free, unlike the Adobe plug-in for MS Office.

    I remember reading that Google Docs was initially created at Google so the employees can collaborate internally. I’m sure they own a few copies of MS Office, OOo, and Adobe suites too, but for the success that Google has enjoyed, I guess such crude, home grown software did not bring down their company in any way. It probably is good enough for quite a few other organizations and occasions.

    Posted by: mapvoid | February 26, 2008 8:07 PM

  • Yep, and Java was a serious threat to the MS desktop…oops.

    Posted by: Mark | February 26, 2008 10:32 PM

  • Hi,

    Came to your article from DZone.com

    Some key points to take into consideration:
    1) MS Office will be forced to offer a similar product to Google Docs
    2) Zoho is more advanced than Google Docs.
    3) I do not believe in a total online/offline document. I cannot see Google Apps replacing MS Office/Open Office since people IMHO always want the data to be stored both locally and online.

    Posted by: infonote | February 26, 2008 11:15 PM

  • check the ThinkFree office package… its Java Applet i think this is the THREAD to Microsoft Office not google .

    Posted by: JOKe | February 26, 2008 11:51 PM

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News Analysis October 31, 2007, 12:51AM EST text size: TT

Google Girds for Facebook Fight

The No. 1 search engine is banding together with other sites and software developers to build its own social networking ecosystem

Google has reached its share of dizzying heights—a share price of almost $700, a penchant for consistently beating Wall Street’s financial expectations, and an outsize influence on the computer industry. It has done so by controlling the rich vein of advertising that flows from Internet searches. But there’s a new online frontier Google (GOOG) has largely failed to tap: the rapidly growing world of social networks, which promises advertisers the ability to reach users where they live online.

While Google has concentrated mostly on placing ads based on what users are trying to find, social networking sites such as Facebook and News Corp.’s (NWS) MySpace have begun targeting users based on who they know—or more precisely, the tastes and demographic information they expose while socializing online. Aiding the social networks in that effort are legions of independent software developers who write so-called widgets, or applications such as games and quizzes, that can keep users glued to a site.

For software creators, it’s a way to get their handiwork in front of millions of social networkers. For the networks, opening up to developers means more ways to engage users and the advertisers who want to reach them.

A Developer-Friendly Tool

Now, Google wants in on the action. On Oct. 30, the company announced the release of a tool called OpenSocial, which will let software developers write programs for a variety of social networking sites that support the technology. Today, that includes not only Google’s Orkut, but also Ning, LinkedIn, and Hi5 Networks.

The idea is to create specifications common to all the sites, rather than forcing programmers to use separate standards for each. Google also has support for the technology from companies including Slide, the top maker of widgets for Facebook and MySpace, and iLike, whose software lets users compare musical tastes and find out about concerts. “The work is dramatically reduced,” says Ali Partovi, CEO of iLike. Software vendors Salesforce.com (CRM) and Oracle (ORCL) have said they plan to use OpenSocial.

In the future, Google plans to let developers use OpenSocial to gain access to data from its own widely used applications, including Gmail and the iGoogle personalized home page, and share ad revenue with its partners. Google believes it has a trove of data on users’ social relationships in its e-mail and other software, which it can mine to better target those ads. “That’s certainly an area that’s rich with opportunity,” says Joe Kraus, a director of product management at Google.

Facing Down Facebook

If the plan is successful, Google could bring its leverage to bear on the social networking market and potentially slow the momentum of high-flying Facebook. “This is an open version of what Facebook has done,” says Marc Andreessen, a co-founder of Ning, which provides tools for building social networks. Andreessen was the founder of Netscape Communications in the ’90s. It’s still unclear whether enough developers will cotton to Google’s new platform to make it a success, but if they do, OpenSocial “poses a real challenge” to Facebook, he says. “The idea of a closed, differentiated Facebook network—this announcement changes that significantly.”

For Google, OpenSocial is the first step in a plan to hit back at Facebook and Google’s chief rival, Microsoft (MSFT), which on Oct. 25 announced a $240 million investment in Facebook (BusinessWeek.com, 10/25/07), beating out Google for a stake in the fast-growing company, now worth an estimated $15 billion. So far, the companies haven’t made any announcements about technical integration of their software, though Microsoft has said it’s helping Facebook with technology that could turn the social network’s data on members’ names, connections, and tastes into user directories that are accessible by business software programs.

David to Google’s Goliath?

Facebook could encroach further on Google’s turf: It’s rumored to be working on an advertising network it will announce Nov. 6 in New York. At the Web 2.0 conference in San Francisco earlier this month, Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg said the company is interested in applications related to online ads.

“One of the next transformative uses of the Net is through the relationships embodied in your social network,” says Reid Hoffman, co-founder and chairman of LinkedIn, which on Nov. 2 plans to release an application programming interface that will let developers create applications that leverage users’ LinkedIn networks on other sites. OpenSocial is “an indirect shot” at Facebook, says Hoffman, an early Facebook investor. “It means that there isn’t just one social platform on the Web.”

Facebook is amassing a wealth of data on its 50 million users’ social connections, ages, tastes, and shopping habits, thanks in part to the site traffic spurred by popular third-party applications from companies such as Slide and iLike. In a Web advertising market where finely slicing segments of users is key, the social networks’ storehouses of data on users’ demographics and online behavior could be a boon to advertisers, which are warming to the sites. “If the rumors are true and Facebook is about to launch an ad network, that would be a huge step for the industry,” says Andreessen. “Advertising that’s super-targeted is incredibly useful.”

Google’s Expansion Hopes

Google already has a foothold in the market for social networking ads. It serves advertisements to users of MySpace as part of a $900 million deal put in place in 2006. On Oct. 17, MySpace said it would make data on relationships among its 110 million users available (BusinessWeek.com, 10/18/07) to outside developers and share revenue from related advertising with them.

With OpenSocial, Google hopes to extend its presence on the social Web. A critical first step will be convincing outside software makers to embrace its approach. “To the extent that OpenSocial has elements that allow us to make money, it will be more attractive,” says Keith Rabois, vice-president of strategy and business development at Slide. “To the extent it doesn’t, Facebook will be more attractive. That’s a key element that drives any venture-backed business.”

Ricadela is a writer for BusinessWeek.com in Silicon Valley .

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