Tuesday, August 9, 2011

Microsoft Office facing some Serious Competition

As readers here know, on June 25, 2002 I began the habit of handwriting a page each day.  I have maintained that regimen much to my own amazement.  In February 2004, I I began e-mailing a monthly letter to friends and family.  By January 2009, I decided to post everything on this blog, This Side of Fifty.  All my daily writing had been handwritten until I began sending out the monthly e-letter.  Even in the early days of the e-letter, I used the daily handwriting to draft the letter and using Microsoft Word to craft the finished version.  There was no question about using MS Word.  It was the word processor the 99.99% of the people used.  It was on my work laptop and home computer.

Gradually, I began to type more of my daily writing.  Again, whenever I did this, the only choice was the ubiquitous, popular, and essential MS Word.  I mostly type my daily writing these days.  The last handwritten journal entry was on June 30 of this year.  Beginning last year, I began to stray from MS Word even for my typing. 

For most of the first half of this year, I used the word processor in Google Docs.  I was writing to the cloud.  In July, I bought an iPad and since I did that, I have been using the Apples Pages word processor on the iPad first and foremost.  The Google Docs word processor is a distant #2.  Close behind Google Docs is MS word which I use mainly to final edit documents especially my monthly letter.  Basically, this year I have been using MS Word less and less.  A few years ago, I believed there would never be any competition to MS Word, Excel, and PowerPoint.  They had a virtual monopoly.  The problem with monopolies is well known and proven:  complacency and inefficiency.

Microsoft has always provided a good array of products in their Office Suite.  In the early days, there were complaints about the amount of memory the products took up.  This became a non-issue as memory both RAM and hard drive became cheap and plentiful.  The capabilities of Word, Excel, and PowerPoint were more than most users would ever need.  I would guess that 90% of the users only tap into maybe 20% of the features available in these products.  Microsoft had a good product but the Office Suite  was not cheap and they were always updating the product.  Users had to pay for the updates.

Google docs is free and offers the same basic capabilities as Word, Excel, and PowerPoint.  The emphasis is clearly on the word BASIC.  Likewise for the Apple iPad suite of products Pages, Keynote, and Numbers.  The Apple products cost a modest $10 a piece.  Again, this suite offers the same basic capabilities as MS Office.  With each passing day, Google Docs and Apple are adding more capabilities and closing the gap on MS Office.  Furthermore, as Google Docs is cloud based and the Apple Suite are iPad applications, updates are free and frequent.  When Apple launches their much anticipated cloud applications this fall, the world will have Google and Apple based alternatives that probably will match each other in capabilities. 

As mentioned above, Microsoft charges for updates.  I do not know if Microsoft will be able to adapt.  Even if they do, their monopoly is broken.

Before getting the iPad, I thought the cloud was my future.  Now, I am not so sure.  I think I will be using a blend of the iPad and Google Docs.  I will still be using MS Word for preparing math exams for the courses I teach.  Neither Google Docs or Apple Pages has a mathematical formula editor.  The math editor on MS Word is very good.  The same goes for the spreadsheets.  I can and will use both Google Docs and Numbers for basic things.  But, I will use MS Excel too for really heavy spreadsheet work because it’s superiority in terms of graphics, pivot tables, and statistical functions.  The unknown factor is how long it will take Google and Apple to close these gaps.

Thus far, I have only used PowerPoint for presentations.  I have a friend who uses an even cheaper suite on his iPad.  He got word processing, spreadsheet, and presentation all for $10.  He is quite happy with his choice and does all his presentations on his iPad with his $3.33 software.   He pointed out that I overpaid and we had a great laugh. 

Google Docs requires and active internet.  Their office suite software resides in the cloud as does ones files.  Without an internet connection, one can access neither the applications nor ones files. This is a bit limiting.  When I first got my iPad, I thought I would be accessing Google Docs most of the time.  I rarely do that because there is not a good app for that.  With the iPad, I use the Apple suite which allows me to work on and save files locally like on a laptop but also easily email them or save them in a file sharing application like Dropbox.  The internet is required for sharing only. 

I have no clue if Microsoft is playing in this space or planning on moving into these kinds of product offerings at competitive prices.  A Google search (yeah I did not use Bing), revealed a product called Microsoft 365 that is a pay as you go, access it anywhere, service.  The basic trial price is $6/month per user.  That is $72/year vs. Google Docs for $0 or a onetime charge of $30 for the Apple suite.  Methinks that either they do not get it or maybe, I do not get it.   I am going to guess that they do not get it.

Microsoft may be suffering the same malaise that infected General Motors, Kodak, and Sony:  their business model weighs them down and because of arrogance caused by being the dominant market leader for so long, they just cannot see the world changing around them.  By the time they adapt, they will have already lost significant share.

By the way, I am typed this posting in Pages on my iPad.


  1. May I suggest online text editor, very simple and easy to use...I dumped gDocs after dumpin MS Word as well.
    It's Writer by Bighugelabs.com. Try to play with this http://writer.bighugelabs.com/

  2. When I used google docs last night, Sept 7, 2011. They offered a cleaner new look. As I used it, I noticed more functionality including an option under the Format tab for Equations.

    I then looked at the spreadsheet to find it had more math and statistical functions and graphs than before. It also has a basic Linear Programming solver tool.

    The gap is closing quicker than I thought.