Google: Think Light

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Over the past week, there’s been a lot of talk about Google planning to rip at least one of Microsoft’s generative organs off by getting into the office suite business.

How likely are they to succeed?

First, the concept of a web-based office suite is nothing new. That’s what ASPs (application service providers) were all about a few years back. This didn’t work all too well because . . . they were slow.

Is there any reason to think that Google can do better than that?

Well, fiber-optics based broadband ought to provide extra speed, but not any time soon for a significant proportion of computer users.

If you can’t deliver the total package faster, maybe you can get away with delivering less, or providing some upfront, the rest when needed. Google Earth is a good example of this; you download the core package, and the Web holds the files you search. This seems to be what Google plans to do.

We shall see, but most who have commented on this have dwelt on the issue, “Can Google match Microsoft Office for heavy office users?”

I think that misses the point. What about light office and home users?

How many copies of Microsoft Office are on the machines of those who either never use major components at all, or just use them once in a blue moon? Maybe not so much Word, but what about Excel or Powerpoint or Outlook?

And when they do use them, how many features do they use?

It would be difficult to match Microsoft Office feature-for-feature in a web service, but is that what people really want? Seems to me that for every person who complains about the lack of features in Office, there are a hundred who complain it has too many.

It seems to me that Google ought to aim its efforts more towards the casual than the power user. Let MS handle the heavies; Google can take care of everyone else, and if what they come up with is a lot easier to use, maybe people start buying just Word or Works rather than Office.

Make it free (and charge a nominal sum for more advanced versions, again, like Google Earth), and a lot will come. Enough to hurt MS sales a lot for relatively little effort.

This approach could easily become a habit. If Google really wants to rule the computing world, they could provide all kinds of services for the casual/infrequent user. Make them free, and many will be happy to tolerate something a bit slower, or not quite as good as the heavy-duty, heavy-priced programs.

In short, let Microsoft and Adobe have the power users, provide good enough for everyone else. Become the source for most people first, then think about getting the heavies.

That’s one way of making a virtue out of a necessity.



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