Google Office?

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A recent deal between Google and Sun has some people thinking that a web-based version of an office suite is imminent.

Google and Sun must have loved the media coverage last week. As soon as it became known that the two companies would make some announcements the rumor mill went into overdrive. We’re cynical enough to wonder if some of these pre-announcement rumors were arranged by some PR people deliberately.

The idea went around that Google and Sun would release a web-based version of an office suite almost immediately or at least we’d be able to grab a copy of ‘Google Office’ real soon. Those developments are quite possible, if not probable, but for the moment the deal between Google and Sun is much less exciting than the rumors.

Google’s Toolbar will now be available when you download the Java runtime environment (which lets you run Java programs on your computer). Beyond that Sun and Google will “explore opportunities to promote and enhance Sun technologies, like the Java Runtime Environment and the productivity suite”. Which means exactly nothing in terms of immediate changes.

At present there’s nothing really new – you could always download OpenOffice from Bringing Google into the situation means that OpenOffice could go from a marginal role to a prominent position in the eye of the general public.

The idea of a web based office suite doesn’t impress us much. While you can access email from a browser, that is for most people a temporary alternative to using an email program rather than a permanent replacement. To use a word processor over the Internet would require a very reliable and fast connection – of telephone standard or reliability – at the very least. There’s already such an offering at though it’s just a word-processor and spreadsheet at this stage.

Having a Java program that acts as a word-processor is possible – it’s an idea that has been touted many times before. Microsoft even toyed with such a project years ago. In the past Java has been too slow to work for such a complex program, perhaps the technology has advanced and now it is a more viable project?

While we like Microsoft Office (after all we’ve talked about it, good and bad, for ten years) some competition in the market can only benefit us consumers. Lower prices and better features should be the result over time.

We’ve already seen this happen. Microsoft reacted to the presence of low cost Office alternatives with a cunning strategy of offering a lower priced version to consumers under the guise of a ‘Student and Teacher’ edition. See our coverage in a previous article.

Microsoft has a strong incentive to retain their vast market share and strong revenue steams from Office. Rivals would like a piece of that pie – after all even 1% or less of the Office market share would be enough for most of us to retire on a private island (with wireless net access, of course).

Microsoft knew competitors to MS Office were always possible which is why they have worked hard to entangle Office with their other products, especially on the server side. While Office does use open standards like XML etc – MS Office generally works better and easier within an ‘all Microsoft environment’.


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