Back when Google started rolling out its online office tools, I observed that all the criticism that online tools lacked the power of Microsoft Office were missing the point:
If I had to pick a product to compare the Google collection to, I would vote for Microsoft Works. It’s light duty office functionality for the occasional user and so are Google Spreadsheets, Writely, and Google Calendar. I can easily see OEMs at some point foregoing a Microsoft Works bundle on a consumer PC and just pointing them to the Google office offerings.
We haven’t quite reached that blissful state yet, but Microsoft seems to be seriously thinking about moving in that direction by making Microsoft Works an online service under Office Live according to Jay Greene at BusinessWeek Online:
Microsoft, which scoffed at the rise of online alternatives to Office, isn’t looking the other way anymore. BusinessWeek has learned that the software giant is developing a strategy to put some of the technology from its Works software—the barebones word-processing and spreadsheet program that often ships with new consumer PCs—at the heart of a new online offering.
The company is working on plans to offer a free version hosted on its Office Live Web site, as well as a subscription flavor with more bells and whistles. While it’s not a done deal, the company is throwing a lot of manpower at the project. “It’s not a small number (of people working on the project) to be sure,” says Chris Capossela, vice-president for Microsoft’s Business Division Product Management Group. “This is core. We want to win this space.”
Microsoft is still working out the details for its online offering. And nothing will likely be decided until after its flagship productivity software, Microsoft Office 2007, ships early next year (see BusinessWeek.com, 11/18/05, “Microsoft’s New Word: Accountability”). But after that, Microsoft will likely put tweaked versions of the Works spreadsheet, word-processing, and project management programs on the Web.
So much for Microsoft’s disdain for limited function Web office products. As the rest of the article makes clear, Microsoft Works isn’t particularly lucrative and offering it on the Web might be a better way to turn a buck plus add the multi-user sharing that is the boast of all the Web Office tools. However, Microsoft Office is still the cash cow in the living room and no one wants to upset the milk flow.