Microsoft and Google: Different Approaches to Web Apps

As Microsoft begins previewing its Office Web Apps — lightweight, online versions of Word, Excel and PowerPoint that will compete for hearts and minds against Google Web Apps — it’s interesting to observe the divergent positioning the companies have taken.

Rob Helm, an analyst with Directions on Microsoft, does an excellent job describing the contrasting approaches:

“Google is trying to catch up with Microsoft’s desktop applications, maybe cover 80% of their functionality. But they’ve got a long ways to go . . . .

“Microsoft is instead trying to promote an adjunct to Office to use when you’re collaborating with people, and to handle some commenting and formatting, and maybe entering a little text. Microsoft has a much narrower view of what Web apps are supposed to do. They’re very carefully limiting the Web apps, so they really aren’t a substitute for the desktop.”

Initially, Google will target the federal government and its agencies. There are security, availability, reliability issues surrounding Google’s web-based applications, but the federal government might be a receptive audience, looking for cost-effective alternatives to Microsoft’s dominant Office suite.

Meanwhile, Microsoft’s approach, using Web applications as collaborative adjuncts to the Office franchise, makes considerable sense. Microsoft calculates that it will take a long time before Google is ready to tear into the Office installed base with a feature-rich web-based suite. Similarly, Microsoft knows that enterprise concerns about the availability and security of cloud-based applications won’t dissipate overnight.

In Microsoft’s view, why should it prematurely or unnecessarily cannibalize its Office franchise? The revenue implications of such a move aren’t palatable. Eating one’s own isn’t appetizing, even when it is imperative. For now, Microsoft just doesn’t feel the need. It’s hard to refute that logic.

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