Google disconnects, Microsoft connects

The International Standards Organisation's (ISO) decision to support Open XML for documentation, has been a long time coming, if widely predicted.
 
What will change now that the standard has been ratified‾ In the short term very little. Those who were protesting and opposing the Open XML progress through the standards process will still oppose it.
 
Open XML's supporters need to move into the implementation phase and Microsoft may look to take a lead. However, the standard it initially submitted, originally through ECMA, has been revised by the standards process - generally improving it on the way.

Microsoft will need to update its existing and future products to support the format that was ratified. This is likely to take some time and Microsoft will also need to provide tools to enable customers to convert their Office 2007 formats into the new Open XML standard. Other developers like Apple, IBM, Sun et al will also need to put plans in place to support this standard.
 
What this does not mean the demise of Open Document Format (ODF) - one of the other ISO ratified document standards. Rather developers of documents software will have to support both formats and compete on the basis of the intrinsic merits of their products instead of a standards body lock-out - from either the ODF or the Open XML camp.

Then Google announced Google Docs Offline (GDO). Using Google Gears - an open source browser extension - documents can be viewed and edited offline, then synchronised again when a network connection is restored. Offline access to presentations and spreadsheets is not yet available, but is likely to follow.
 
These two announcements signal the beginning of the end of the architectural bigotry that has pervaded the software as a service (SaaS) market. SaaS providers need to respect customers' desire to control their own architecture and remain agnostic in the face of near-religious debates about on-premise versus off-premise. All parties need to understand that users care more about the business outcomes of using software and less about its deployment plumbing. Finally both Google and Microsoft are giving customers this choice, starting from different end of the spectrum.
 
The question on everyone's lips is, "How this will impact Microsoft Office‾" At the same time Microsoft has also been busy, bringing out online versions of some of its products - such as SQL Server Data Services or Microsoft Office Live Workspace - that bring some of its traditional on-premise applications into the cloud.
 
The impact of Google on the Microsoft Office heartland has been relatively limited to date. There are three broad reasons for this.

Firstly, they are less easy to use than their desktop competitors - partly due to genuine usability differences and partly to less attractive GUIs.

Secondly, the range of functionality provided by many of the applications is appropriate for some users and usage cases, but is not enough for intensive information workers.

 

For example, few professional authors would use Google Docs for long pieces of writing, but would use it for shorter pieces where collaboration is a key part of the work. It's a different product for a different purpose. However, both of these factors are steadily declining as differentiators for desktop software, with each incremental release of the online applications bringing improvements - although much work still needs to be done.
 
The third problem has been more deep-seated until now. Despite advances in communication and connectivity not everyone is continuously connected to the Internet, and being locked out of both your application and data when the connection drops is not acceptable. Google's recent announcement of the Google Gears enabled Google Docs Offline begins to address this issue. This starts to remove one of the biggest barriers to the adoption of online applications. Just as Microsoft steadily gained market share with successive improvements through successive generations of Microsoft Windows, so will Google progressively gain share.

Microsoft is not standing still. It has embarked on a major transition to make its software available through online services. Over the next two to three years (or sooner) large elements of its product set will be able to be consumed as software + service.
 
How much is a key question‾ Although SaaS is rapidly gaining mindshare and market share it is very unlikely to replace the desktop or the broader on-premise software category completely, just as client-server computing did not kill off mainframe computing and the PC did not kill off the departmental server. On-premise and online will co-exist and users will want to use both, without having to understand which is which.
 

David Mitchell, SVP IT Research

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