Office if necessary, not necessarily Office

What started with a rumour last night – which Om Malik (among others) wrote about – has become fact: Google has acquired Writely.com, which provides something approaching an online version of Microsoft Word. Needless to say, this has revived talk about the much-rumoured Google “Web Office,” with Web apps that take the place of the different parts of Microsoft’s Office suite – the one that accounts for a fairly substantial proportion of the software giant’s revenue and profits, in case you’re keeping score at home.

Om has a nice graph that puts the issues into perspective, with Google’s Web-based versions of Word, Excel, mail and so on — all of which Microsoft charges almost $400 for. Google’s price? Zero. My friend and fellow M-list wagon-trainer Kent Newsome doesn’t think this model will scale, but it doesn’t really have to scale all that much before it becomes a threat to Microsoft. In effect, there is nowhere for the software behemoth to go but down in terms of market share. Yes, it’s true that not everyone wants to use Web-based apps, and there are issues with the reliability of free services such as Gmail.com (which has been down several times today and yesterday).

But at the same time, Writely and JotSpot Tracker (an Excel-style spreadsheet app) and presentation tools such as Thumbstacks.com are likely to be good enough for many people, and perhaps even small businesses – and as some smart person pointed out recently (if I remember who, I will insert it here) it isn’t always the people or services that are better than you that should concern you, it’s those that are good enough to draw your customers away.

For me, having used Writely.com to plan the Web 2.0 conference I’m helping to organize in Toronto this spring, Writely is definitely good enough. And if you combine it with something like Gdrive, then the relevance of Microsoft’s Office becomes less and less compelling.

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