Microsoft attacks Google with free Office apps

Microsoft has announced details of Office 2010. Techcrunch has a complete guide – highlights include

  • Free web versions of Word, PowerPoint and Excel, with stripped-down functionality (but more than Google’s apps)
  • Three screens strategy allows the apps to synchronise across phone, browser and desktop
  • Word allows multiple users to work on a document at the same time (not available with the web version)
  • Thread view for email messages in Outlook (about time)

We’ll hold judgement until we’ve actually tried the apps, but it looks good enough to defend some of Fortress Office, though Google has clearly undermined some of the walls and may still have the edge in some areas

  • Real-time document collaboration is a huge advancement. In Google’s spreadsheet app, this feature alone outweighs many of MS Office’s fancy functions in usefulness. MS appears to be lagging.
  • Most people use only a tiny fraction of MS Office’s features, so the free web versions may be sufficient for a large chunk of the userbase – hitting MS’s revenues hard.
  • MS’s software + services (i.e. desktop and web-based) is a potential winner for heavier users of Office – you can do the complex work on a desktop, and fall back on the browser for convenience. For instance, Google spreadsheets are hopelessly slow with large datasets and models.

UPDATE: Wired has had a better look

  • Web-Excel will allow real-time collaboration but the web versions of Word and PowerPoint won’t (for now)
  • Mac Office users won’t be able to use the integration between desktop and web apps until the new Mac version of Office appears (2011?)
  • MS’s strategy appears – unsurprisingly – to be to make the desktop apps essential and the web apps a useful appendage. For instance, it appears that you have to create documents with the desktop apps; you can then do simple editing with the web apps.

If this last point is true, MS are trying to seize the horns of the innovator’s dilemma – when someone overtakes your innovation (we won’t dwell on that point), do you continue with the old or switch to the new? MS might be trying to do both. Given inertia in the market, they might succeed.