Analysis of IT news

Saturday, June 10, 2006

Case Study: Google Spreadsheet

News Item: Google released an online spreadsheet, a moved seen by many as a threat to Microsoft and a potential MS-Office killer.

Analysis: Google Spreadsheet is a disrupting innovation, not competing against MS-Office while competing against it at the same time.

Google Spreadsheet (and online office services like online word processors in general) aren't seriously competing with MS-Office in the corporate world anytime soon. They just don't provide many of the features companies are using. And I'm not even taking into account migrating all the legacy spreadsheet.

But traditional office suites have reached a point where they are threatened by commoditization due to an overabundance of features. How did this happen? My guess here is that, paradoxically, Microsoft listened to their customers. 1% of the customers would like feature X? Let's implement it! 2% of the customers would like feature Y? Let's add it! Some customers complained that MS-Office was too difficult to use? Let's add the infamous Office assistants, hated by a huge majority of Office users.

As a result, most users indeed don't use 10% of the features of Word or Excel. Under those conditions, office suites are more and more seen as commodities where an office suite is an office suite. Microsoft is struggling to find new features that will excite its customers, but it's getting harder and harder. There are sometimes when less is more.

And this point is definitely crossed for individual users who have much simpler needs than their corporate counterparts. They will however switch only if a new software provides something the legacy software cannot replicate.

Here, Google Spreadsheet has several key competitive advantages. First of all, it's free. And second, it's available online. You can access your spreadsheets from anywhere and share them friends or family. Here, Google Spreadsheet doesn't need to be as powerful as Excel. It just needs to be powerful enough for its users needs.

Note that the same scenario happened with email. Online email services such as Hotmail didn't replace Outlook inside the workplace, but individuals embraced this new type of application because it was good enough for their needs and allowed them to check their emails everywhere.


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