It may have lost ground to its competitors in other areas over the last few years but Microsoft still reigns supreme in one domain: the workplace. Indeed, Word, Excel and PowerPoint are as familiar fixtures to office workers as the water-cooler and the photocopier. However, how much longer will Microsoft’s dominance last?
As far back as 2006, Google launched its Google Apps package, pitching it as a low cost alternative to the Microsoft Office software suite. Providing solutions for all of the common Office tasks- Docs replaces Word, Sheet offers Excel type functionality and so on- all of the business software and saved files are stored in the cloud so installation on each user’s individual machine is not required. The Google Apps site now proudly boasts 5 million business users but until recently the perception was that of a niche product catering for small businesses looking for a low cost solution.
However, the last 12 months has seen a number of larger and higher profile adopters. For example, Hoffmann-La Roche, a Swiss pharmaceutical giant with a workforce of over 80,000, now uses the package. Staying in Switzerland, its Interior Department has over 90,000 of its employees use the software showing that it is also now considered to be a realistic solution in the public as well as the private sector.
In contrast to the mid/late-2000s, cloud computing is quickly becoming a universally understood concept even by non-technical users. Consequently, an increasing number of departmental managers and company directors now appear to be willing to make the move to a cloud-based solution. The cost savings are hugely attractive, too: Google charges a rate of $50 per user per year, a price point they have not altered since the original launch; this is in spite of much additional functionality having been added in the intervening period. In a still difficult economic climate, the temptation to swap the expenditure on Microsoft Office licenses for such a low flat rate is proving irresistible to many companies.
Microsoft is hoping to fend off their upstart rivals with their latest iteration, Office 2013. It was released to manufacturers late last year and is due to be rolled out to the general public during the first quarter of 2013. The first new version of the suite since the Office 2010 release, it incorporates many of the concepts that have come to the fore in the intervening period such as cloud computing and Skype functionality. Only time will tell if it will be enough to halt the onward march of Google Apps.
The picture is likely to be much clearer this time next year once Office 2013’s impact (or lack thereof) is known. One thing is for sure, a quick glance at other IT sectors such as the web browser market shows that competition between rival companies is likely to spur a drive for innovation and added value which can only be good news for all customers, from individual end users right through to large international corporations.