For years, many believed there’d come a day when increased competition would spur innovation in the market for office suites. During the past half-year, that belief has finally begun to materialize. The result has been more choices for consumers and enterprises, as well as a more web-friendly Microsoft Office.
A little more than a year ago, BusinessWeek ran this piece called “More to Life than the Office,” essentially predicting that alternatives like IBM’s Workplace and the free OpenOffice might begin to wean corporate America off the Microsoft-only software environment in the coming years.
But there were several things the article couldn’t have predicted that hastened this trend towards increased competition.
-The first was Google’s abrupt push into the enterprise space. In February, the company announced the launch of its Google Apps Premier Edition, which presented enterprises with a web-based productivity suite that the internet giant coyly deemed a “complement” to Microsoft Office but which the media happily hyped up as otherwise. Most recently, Capgemini announced it would offer support surrounding the web-based suite in a move Google hoped would make Google Apps more palatable for businesses. Then it added a PowerPoint-equivalent. All of Google Apps are slimmed down and sparse, but purely web-based and without the need for installed software.
-Secondly, traditional vendors, perhaps emboldened by Google, started offering their own (and often free) alternatives as well. In August, Sun began offering its StarOffice for free in Google Pack. About two weeks ago, IBM rolled out its Lotus Symphony software. And yesterday, Adobe announced its acquisition of a web-based word processor.
Microsoft’s decision to offer an online version of Office for free yesterday shows how it has begun to respond to this paradigm shift in the software industry. Though it has been criticized for not allowing an editing option (users have to edit on an installed office suite), the announcement signifies a good first step. Regardless of how you feel about Microsoft Office, the improvement will help big businesses with IT departments (which have no real plans to change suites anytime soon) adapt to the web.
As The Wall Street Journal’s Ben Worthen wrote in the Business Technology Blog yesterday, the lack of an editing feature might not be as troublesome to Microsoft customers as some would think. “Sharing files over the internet is new for IT as well,” he writes. “And better to do it with the devil you know.”
There’s finally a true competitive landscape for office productivity suites emerging, and that means better products for both Microsoft customers and everyone else.