by Bernard Golden

The Fake Steve Jobs Whiffs on Google Apps

Dec 24, 20074 mins
Enterprise Applications

How can such a funny guy be so wrong? In a recent posting, the Fake Steve Jobs (aka Daniel Lyons, writer for Forbes) dismissed Google Apps, describing an article about them as being planted by Google as a desperate PR stunt.

FSJ went on to note that the article couldn’t reference a single big customer, from which he concluded that Google Apps is a pathetic attempt to go after Microsoft and is doomed to failure. He quotes Jeff Raikes of Microsoft who was quoted in the original article as saying Google’s visiion for its applications is “totally inaccurate compared with where the market is today and where the market is headed.”

While Google’s self-regard can be overweening, and plenty of their initiatives seem misguided or even bizarre, I think it is far more correct in pursuing this application initiative than FSJ is in concluding it’s doomed.

That more and more computing is being done on the web is undeniable. There is a significant school of thought that holds that standalone computing devices will soon be obsolete, especially in a world where always-on connectivity can be assumed. One major proponent of this viewpoint is Nick Carr, whose new book, The Big Switch: Rewiring the World, from Edison to Google limns this perspective; I’m not totally sold that all computing is going to move to the web, and I’ve certainly vociferously disagreed with Carr in the past, feeling his perspective on IT’s usefulness was overstated and inaccurate; his new book will arrive on my doorstep on the day after Christmas so I’ll soon know how I feel about his current thinking.

Google apps have been around less than a year, and changing behavior takes much longer than that. But make no mistake, Google apps will become a significant force in office productivity and represent a major threat to Microsoft’s cash cow, Office. To quote a relevant authority on changing consumer behavior, Bill Gates: “We tend to overestimate change in the short term and underestimate it in the long term.” Just because there are no big companies trumpeting their use of Google apps today does not mean that they will not adopt those apps in the fuure.

Google apps is undoubtedly not as powerful as the standalone Microsoft Office suite. But the ability to use those apps in ways impossible with standalone Office will drive adoption and support uses that cannot be accomplished today. Just to take one example: the ability to share a document and allow multiple people to modify it rather than undergo the hell of inconsistent versions being emailed around is profound. Yes, I know that Microsoft offers a product that allows document sharing — but it requires a purchase, isn’t well-suited for out-of-firewall sharing, and doesn’t allow for immediate use.

You’d think even the fake Steve Jobs would get that offering a different use model can profoundly change the role of an established product. I mean, look at the mp3 player. There were already portable music devices — the Sony Walkman and transistor radios. But the ability to digitize and share music and conveniently transfer it disrupted an entire industry, and continues to do so. The real Steve Jobs certainly got it. FSJ, ever hear of the iPod? iTunes?

And quoting Jeff Raikes of Microsoft. It was bad enough that the original article gave him room to opine. But repeating it, approvingly? Of course he’s going to say that Google apps are toylike. Of course he’s going to say that in their conversations with customers, they say that Google apps won’t cut it. Jeff Raikes doesn’t ever talk to the people who don’t currently own Office and would never bother discussing Google apps advantages over Office. This is similar to when I speak to proprietary software company executives about open source. They often respond “we don’t really see [XYZ open source app] in sales situations,” implying that open source is not really a competitive threat.

I remember seeing a quote from someone at SGI, discussing what befell the company as a result of the shift to x86-powered machines. “Everyone knew about Clayton Christensen and ‘The Innovator’s Dilemma’. We just couldn’t do anything about it.”

I love reading the Fake Steve Jobs. But on Google apps he’s barking up the wrong tree.