Google-Microsoft rivalry heats up over office software

Google-Microsoft rivalry heats up over office software

San Francisco: As Microsoft Corp. gears up to launch the latest version of its Office software suite next month, Google Inc. showed off slick upgrades to its competing online product on Monday—and wasn't shy about drawing comparisons.

"When they come knocking saying that you need to upgrade to Office 2010, you should know that you now have a choice, a viable replacement," said Anil Sabharwal, product manager of Google Apps, during a cloud computing conference at the company's campus.

Productivity software is an increasingly bloody battleground for the two technology behemoths. Google's pure cloud computing approach—meaning documents are created and stored online and accessible via personal computers or mobile devices—gave it an early leg up in enabling workers to easily collaborate on projects. But Google Docs has lacked the sophisticated features and stability of Microsoft's pricier tools.

Google's Monday announcement represents an effort to close the gap, even as Microsoft is battling to widen it and defend its premium with major cloud and collaboration upgrades.

“Microsoft is coming out of the old world, the client-server model, and Google is in the new world, the always-on model," said Katherine Egbert, software analyst at Jefferies and Co. “They’re heading to the same place but coming from different directions."

Docs is free for consumers and runs $50 (Rs2,230) per business user per year, while Office 2010 will range from $99 to $499 at retail, depending on the variant.

It's a huge moneymaker for Microsoft, with the business division contributing nearly 25% of the firm’s $19 billion in revenue in the fiscal second quarter. So, any competitive threat is serious.

The next generation of Google Docs adds a number of frequently requested features such as a margin ruler in documents and drag-and-drop columns in spreadsheets; improves the so-called fidelity of imported documents, meaning formatting like spacing and centering is retained; and adds a collaborative drawing application for creating flowcharts and diagrams.

Google also bought DocVerse in March, a small firm that will allow users of older Office applications to collaborate through Google's cloud without having to upgrade to the latest version of the suite.

But Microsoft is firing back with Office 2010, available to businesses on 12 May and consumers sometime in June. Notable advances include improved collaboration capabilities, such as social-networking features in the new version of SharePoint, and broader support of cloud computing across devices, including free online versions of Word, Excel and PowerPoint.