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deddynoer: Microsoft vs Google Web-based office battle heats up again

Posted by Mary Jo Foley

After a few months of relative quiet, the war of words and customer wins is on again, with Microsoft and Google battling over which company will be more successful in providing office applications over the Web.

On November 17, Microsoft is launching one component of its Software + Service strategy this week: the final versions of its

Microsoft-hosted versions of Exchange and SharePoint
. Microsoft is launching two of its growing family of Microsoft Online services at an event in San Francisco, according to company officials.

Last week, Google touted a couple of corporate users who had switched from Microsoft software to Google Apps. At the same time, independent researchers (a few of whom formerly worked at Microsoft) released a study — not paid for by Microsoft — showing that Google’s Web-hosted productivity oferings weren’t gaining traction with corporate customers. The study, from a firm called ClickStream, found that OpenOffice was five times more popular than Google Docs.

Google officials have said they have “millions” of users of Google Docs and Google Apps. But as a BusinessWeek story recently noted, Google still doesn’t seem to have many corporate, paying users for its hosted productivity apps.

Microsoft has been floundering, in terms of how and when to provide its customers with the option of running its Office client and server family of products in the cloud.

Until recently, Microsoft was focused on adding online collaboration functionality to Office via its Office Live Workspace technology, which is currently in beta. But at the end of October, Microsoft officials announced the company also was planning to release a Web-based version of some of its Office 14 applications that will be able to work inside of a variety of browsers, including Internet Explorer, Safari and Firefox.

The first private test release of Office Web Applications, as they are being called, is due out before the end of 2008. (Microsoft hasn’t provided a recent update on when Office 14 will ship; until recently it was looking like 2009, but some are now saying early 2010 is more likely.)

it’s hard to know the extent to which Microsoft’s Office Web apps will provide all of the same features and functionality as in Microsoft Office 14, since few, if any, users have had a chance to try out the code. I had been hearing talk that documents created in Office Web Apps would not be able to be saved directly to a local PC. When I asked Microsoft officials, they said Office Web Apps documents would need to be saved first to SharePoint Workspace before being downloaded to a local machine. Once a test version is out, more “quirks” like this will no doubt be discovered.

Corporate users: Are you interested in test-driving web-based productivity solutions from Microsoft and/or Google? What are your must-haves before you deploy these kinds of services?