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Google DocVerse and Microsoft Office: A Cross-Town Bridge?

Admit it, you remember the "Dancin' Homer" episode of the Simpsons from…well, some years ago. In the episode, Homer becomes a successful mascot for the Springfield Isotopes baseball team and gets a call from a major-league team in Capital City.

As always, calamity ensues. For our purpose here, try to recall one memorable scene from the episode in which the Simpson family drives into Capital City and marvels at the Cross-Town Bridge. Not to state the obvious, but a cross-town bridge is pretty useless; most bridges cross bodies of water or maybe large highways. A cross-town bridge, in theory, would only cross perfectly good streets and would be superfluous—although Oklahoma City, apparently, actually has one. Who knew? (People in OKC, we suppose.)

Anyway, we introduce this Simpsons reference in order to offer a metaphor for Google's recent acquisition of a company called DocVerse, whose flagship product lets users share and edit Microsoft Office content via the Internet in real time.

As you might imagine, the DocVerse buy has the press all a-twitter (quite literally, probably, although we don't like Twitter and don't spend much time on it) about Google "targeting" Microsoftand about how Google Apps is now more of a threat to Microsoft's Office franchise than ever. Hey, with DocVerse, users can manipulate Word documents online! With each other! In real time! How will Office survive? (Trust us—there are plenty of articles out there that question Office's future; we've chosen not to link to them because they're mostly hysterical ramblings.)

Frankly, we're just not seeing it. First of all, wouldn't DocVerse users have to have Office in order to manipulate Office documents online? How, exactly, does that hurt Microsoft Office? Plus, Google Apps, while handy for some purposes, is simply not close to Microsoft Office in terms of functionality (and, yes, we at RCPU do use both every day). Plus, Microsoft Office 2010 will come with browser-based versions of Office applications that will have online-collaboration functionality. Office Live Workspace already offers similar capabilities.

So what's the big deal here? Google and DocVerse want to build a "bridge" (hence our Simpsons reference) to Google Apps from Microsoft Office. Dig this quote from the story linked above:

"The extent to which DocVerse will be integrated into Google's online offerings is not clear, but the technology may make it easier to port Microsoft Office documents into Google Apps, according to a DocVerse blog.

"'We're looking forward to the opportunity to scale our vision at Google,' the DocVerse blog explains. 'Our first step will be to combine DocVerse with Google Apps to create a bridge between Microsoft Office and Google Apps.'"

A bridge to where? Why would somebody who has Microsoft Office want to work on Office documents in Google Apps, especially when Microsoft already offers some online-collaboration capabilities and is getting ready to offer a lot more? Is this a pure price play? If so, that has worked to some extent for Google Apps, but it hasn't exactly knocked Office off of its throne. Plus, there's a reason Office costs more than Google Apps--it does a lot more. Although, we will admit that Office might be a tad pricey these days.
If the idea is that Google wants to attract users to Google Apps by luring them in with Office interoperability, we're just not quite sure how that would work. If anything, this move seems like an acknowledgement by Google that Apps can't beat Office and is therefore going to sort of join it. Still, we can't see that many users or companies getting hooked on Apps just because they can edit and share Word documents in it. They can also edit and share Word documents online through Microsoft, and that capability is only going to get stronger in Office 2010. Where's the hook for Apps?

Homer and Marge would love the Google-DocVerse deal. It's really a cross-town bridge --there's just not much of reason to drive on it. The streets and avenues of Microsoft Office will get most users where they want to go with little problem. And the experience might actually be a lot better.

What's your take on the future of Microsoft Office? Send it to [email protected].

Posted by Lee Pender on March 10, 2010