There’s been a lot of talk surrounding the launch of Microsoft Office 365 and its purpose as a “pointed attack on Google.” This is an understandable read of the situation given that both products are office productivity suites, reside in a cloud environment, and are affordable options for small to medium businesses. It’s also a reasonable assumption given that, according to a white paper published by White Stratus, 1 in 5 medium-sized businesses had deployed a Google Apps product. Nevertheless, Office 365 is not pointed at Google. Microsoft is not overly scared of Google’s steadily increasing penetration into the previously dominated productivity domain. While Google’s progress is slightly worrying to some on the Microsoft team, Office 365 is much bigger than that. It has its sights set much higher than just being a sandbag wall against a flood of Google Apps subscriptions. While it will function as a floodwall against Google Apps, it is by no means the goal of this product.
Office 365 is a logical evolution of both the tendency of the market to move its productivity to the cloud and of Office’s incremental move to collaboration tools as part of the suite. Starting in Office 2007, Microsoft started adding tools that allowed sharing functions of office productivity among users as part of the main interface (or as add-ons), and Office 2010, along with the increased use of Sharepoint and a free web version of Word and Excel, brought these functions to greater light. Moving the Office suite to the cloud was only logical, regardless of Google’s presence in the market. That trajectory was determined long before Google Apps was even an entity.
Watching the Office 365 launch keynote today, it’s pretty obvious that Microsoft is being super ambitious, and that the product goes far beyond what Google Apps is really capable of at this time. Keep in mind that Google started from scratch; Google Docs was the first document management system that Google had ever tried to release, and the Google Apps version is only incrementally better. Microsoft has years and years of local Office productivity software behind it, and needs to somehow translate a good chunk of that experienced functionality to a streamlined web platform. It’ll have to be much broader than Google Apps to accomplish that.
Office 365 is also setting the stage for increased web integration of the various Windows 8 platforms being released next year. We’ve been promised that Windows 8 will usher a new era of Microsoft digital device convergence. Phones, game consoles, PCs and other Microsoft platform will feature some level of integration with the new OS. In order to achieve the potential of that claim, Office will have to follow suit. What better way to do that than to make it accessible by virtually any Internet-accessible device? Office is poised to become a centralized productivity hub for a bevy of new devices, and Office 15 will likely expand and continue this cloud-ward trend, furthering Windows 8 along the convergence path.
Labeling Office 365 as a “Google Apps killer” is somewhat shortsighted. Without even delving into the features of either platform, it’s quite easy to see that the two products have different goals and are coming from two different positions in the market. Office already has such a huge presence in the enterprise, both in productivity software and email systems, that the threat from Google Apps isn’t worth releasing a major platform over.
Microsoft has plans to make this a part of their overall cloud and convergence strategy, and not just a standalone product that’s released in reaction to their products. Office 365 is much bigger than that. If it can deliver on its promises, Office 365 could be a big win for Microsoft, and a necessary step in the overall migration to the integration and convergence we’re all waiting for.