The world is excited about Google's new web-based spreadsheet, and the speculation about whether it poses a real threat to Microsoft has started. CNET asks the question, "Should Microsoft be worried?" Make no mistake, Microsoft is afraid of this product. It's a smart company and knows better than to discount Google as a competitor.
CNET quotes a lot of people who say Google is a consumer, not an enterprise company, and will only be useful to beginners; that it doesn't seem to fit Google's core search business; that other online vendors, such as Wikipedia and Salesforce already have online spreadsheets, etc. But Google's stock went up on the news, and Google has already demonstrated that crowds are wiser than experts. The wisdom of the stock market indicates this is important.
This reminds me of Microsoft's early days. Its products were mere "toys", people argued, it did not understand the enterprise, applications were very different than its core operating system business. Never forget what Microsoft taught the computer industry; it is much easier to move a product up in functionality than down.
Microsoft is now the company with overly complex products. Market research indicates that most people use only 20% of the functionality of Microsoft software. Microsoft has never offered simpler versions because it killed off all the competition (until now) and just didn't realize or didn't care that there was a need. Google is a master at simplicity. It can move up into the enterprise later.
Does it fit Google's search strategy? Not unless you define search broadly enough to say that people also want to search for their numbers, the way Google Desktop searches your computer. This is a new model. With Google, you do not have to categorize and file everything in the hopes that you will be able to find it later. Search is the first interface to Google's products.
Also, any time Google gets people to use a product, its customer base expands. Micosoft demonstrated that suites of programs with interoperability have a big advantage. That's what Google is doing--creating an online suite. Who knows what great advantages there will be to linking online products, pulling data automatically from other Google products as well as the internet? All someone needs to do to get on my Google calendar is send me a message with the date and time, and it magically appears. These kinds of features will increase.
CIO magazine has a good article on how applications fit Google's strategy, and why it has the technological prowess to do it.
Will people switch? Damn right. I will. Most people are not power users. Microsoft has left a huge opening for easy-to-use software. My wife's computer doesn't have Excel, and we don't want to spend the money to buy it. I can't send her the spreadsheet for our taxes. For the first time, I will be able to access spreadsheets from her computer.
When the reviews come out in the next couple days, they will most likely express disappointment. Reviewers continually forget that Google releases products before they're really ready for prime time, and collect feedback in order to improve them. It's a brilliant approach, avoiding the mistakes Microsoft makes by developing behind closed doors with the feedback of focus groups. Google uses extremely big focus groups.
It will not be an overnight success. Short term success is not the issue. Like Microsoft, Google is very patient. Be patient, and watch it grow.