Mixed results for Google in MS Office’s turf

Mixed results for Google in MS Office’s turf

Mountain View, California: Michael O’Brien, vice-president for information technology at Journal Communications, would prefer not to have the employees of the Milwaukee media company use Microsoft’s Office software any more.

He has installed Google Apps for Businesses, which provides word processing, spreadsheets, email and calendar software, for 400 people and said he planned to “convert" 900 more.

Because Google Apps does many of the same functions as Office, but through a Web browser instead of local software, it is cheaper to own and operate than Microsoft’s desktop software, he said. An additional 1,400 people will be giving up their Microsoft email, documents and spreadsheets for Google in December.

O’Brien said he was also seeing a difference in behaviour. Many people can look at and work on the same content together, and access their memos and calendars from different Web-connected devices. So people are starting to work together by sharing documents that are stored in the cloud. Even at this early stage, he said, “it started to change us."

But more than four years after Google Apps for Businesses made its debut, the question remains how much of a dent Google is making in Microsoft’s business.

Microsoft says Google’s efforts are hardly noticeable. But Google executives say more and bigger firms are signing up for the cloud service.

Possibly more important to Google is the way Apps helps Google build social networks inside business. If successful, it would be a threat to Microsoft’s biggest division and would create another inroad in its struggle with Facebook to dominate users’ online lives.

“Businesses are inherently about people and relationships," said David Girouard, who runs Google’s Apps business. Predictable things, like figuring out the supplies needed for manufacture, were “not the minimum to play," he said. “You need to have a social system, where a guy can introduce an idea about a new supplier, and he gets input from a lot of people quickly."

Though Girouard said 5,000 businesses a day signed up with Google Apps, few big companies have done so, most likely because some people do not entirely trust a cloud-based service, they like Microsoft or do not want to force employees to learn a new system. So Google does the next best thing and is focusing primarily on smaller businesses.

© New York Times 2011