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February 22, 2007

Can Google apps compete with Microsoft? Yes, but only if . . .

[Cross-posted from the Groundswell blog by Josh Bernoff]

Google_appsIn today's Google apps announcement and all the hype about the Google Microsoft battle most people seem to be underemphasizing a central question -- how people use apps offline. For example, this paragraph appeared near the end of the article in the Wall St. Journal.

Trade-offs with such services can include less-sophisticated functions, issues with the security of data stored outside a corporation, and the inability to easily work on documents when there is no Internet connection, such as on a plane.

Forrester's own analysis concentrates on the context in which Google apps make sense -- certainly not for most big corporations -- and the low price. But put as simply as possible, how can any app package compete with Office if it doesn't work offline? My colleague Oliver Young points out that 25% of corporate PCs are laptops, which can go lots of places where Internet access isn't available.

This is part of a pattern. When Google announced Google video in January of 2006, it didn't work offline -- making it not really a competitor to iTunes. When I asked them about how it could work offline, they said they were "working on it." The same applies to all the other Google apps like Blogger and previously released parts of apps like Docs, Spreadsheets, and Calendar -- they work fine, but they don't work offline. (The interesting exception is the photo organizer app Picasa.)

Now Google isn't stupid. Right now, as Charlene pointed out, Google apps are best for shared documents as opposed to typical office functionality. Despite all their protestations that apps isn't an assault on Microsoft, of course it is. So they believe either or both of the following:

  1. In the future, everyone will be connected everywhere.
  2. There's some plan in the works to make online apps run offline.

Which is true? Oliver and I believe both are. Naturally Google believes in a future where everything is connected all the time, and they're wiring up cities to help with it.  But this problem would be solved a lot faster if browsers ran apps, especially AJAX apps, offline. Then you could work on your gmail, your Google docs and spreadsheets, your calendar, in your browser. Offline browsing isn't new, but this is more complicated, because once you connected up again your apps would have to sync up -- the whole replication problem that Notes and Outlook take care of now. That's hard -- but not so hard that Google engineeers can't figure it out, especially with some help from Firefox, Adobe, and others trying to weaken the Microsoft monopoly (see Rob Drury's post on this topic).

So, is there a huge offline browsing/apps breakthrough in the offing? You tell me.

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In many thingx I agree Google Apps BUT competition for Exchange NOT Office. My bet is Google Apps will move towards file synchronization... and you will be able to do that through the API.... and the API is the key.. not the AJAX interface.

For example we are developing an FREE open source "business application platform" (think salesforce.com). Our first application is working tightly integrated with GOOGLE APPS. Check it out if you are interested. www.applicationexchange.com

The Google APPs (with its API) is the organic counterpart to Microsoft/BT marketplace… http://news.zdnet.com/2100-3513_22-6161402.html.

The heat is on.

Tom Grant

The Google spreadsheet application was smart enough to recognize that I had lost my Internet connection, and to respond gracefully. It's not a big step from there to being able to handle what happens when it re-connects--at least from the standpoint of the data itself. Loading the application logic into the browser, so that it can work off-line? Er, um...Methinks they'll need a desktop client, unless the apps were built into the browser itself.

I can't imagine that Google isn't thinking about an off-line version. Or, at least, they've built their product plans around how much business they'd lose if they don't work off-line.

I'm still waiting for something to seriously challenge Microsoft's core product line, MSFT Office. OpenOffice had a chance, but it clearly missed the mark.

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