So Sam Diaz over at ZD Net takes Microsoft to task, because they have said that their online offerrings of Office will be “lightweight”. And then he says (in a nutshell), “what’s Microsoft’s problem, Google has gotten this right already!” The reality is, Google Apps are “lightweight” too. As Steve Ballmer mentioned, they didn’t even have footnotes (they got footnotes a few days after he mentioned it).
I can understand that Microsoft is lagging on getting a version of Office on the Web. But, let’s examine reality. Google Apps’ usage rates show that there is not much demand for Web-base office suites at this time, Office still makes a ton of money, and offering a “lightweight” Web Office still puts them on par with Google. Most importantly, the people who are attracted to a Web based office suite neither want nor need a “kitchen sink” application; if they did, they would just buy a copy of Microsoft Office or download Open Office.
The people who are not buying Office are the casual users. People who need to type up a shopping list every now and then, or maybe use a spreadsheet to balance their checkbooks. Yes, this is a huge percentage or users, probably the bulk of home users. These are the same people who do not need the tight collaboration of Outlook, and for whom Web-mail is perfectly suitable. And so on and so on. I am sure that there is some money that can be made, selling ads on these online applications. Unlike most online apps, an office suite is insanely “sticky”, with users spending many hours in them.
What is lost in the whole thing, is a misunderstanding of why people pay for Office in the first place. Businesses buy Office because of Microsoft Exchange. Period. End of story. If you are not using Exchange, all of a sudden, Outlook is merely an “adequate” email client, an “adequate” calandering application, and an “inadequate” contact management system. Word is a great “kitchen sink” word processor, but in reality, the alternatives (Corel WordPerfect, OpenOffice) are perfectly acceptable from probably 90% (or more) of users. Ditto for Excel.
So other than OneNote, I really do not think that Office is particularly great. Overall, it suffers from having too many features and too wide of a user base. It just cannot make everyone happy, so no one is particularly happy with it. For the casual user, it is far too complex, even with the Ribbon. For the “power user”, too many tasks require too many clicks or keystrokes (for the power user, WordPerfect 5.1 was the best application on the face of the planet, except for possibly Emacs). So yes, I really do think that if Microsoft’s online Office is “lightweight”, not only is this not terribly bad, but I think that it is really good. Remember Microsoft Works? Where it was a disaster, was that it used a file format that wasn’t Office’s file formats. But as a lightweight office suite aimed at casual users, it was good. If Office Online replicates that, there is nothing bad about it at all.