The press loves to position this as a fight between two giants in the market, see Business Week article ‘Apps versus Office – Google ups the Ante’. Next there was the report in IT Week around Microsoft about to start trialling a free version of Office paid for by it showing adverts.
It may be good press in terms of stirring up interest, but I am not at all sure it’s the right argument in terms of ‘x’ is good, and ‘y’ is bad, therefore market share will change.

After all we all have a story about what seemed to be free, and really wasn’t, usually ending up with a costly outcome as well. We are getting more used to the idea that there are different methods of payment, and the resulting flexibility in terms of buying the license, the support, the service; SaaS, or even the process; BPO, seems to cover a lot of requirements. So I am not so struck on this side of the argument, instead I think we should be taking a closer look at the ‘tasks’ we are trying to support. Notice I did not say functionality leading to the normal ‘knock off’ comparison, and the tendency to suggest that Google Apps can only be used by smaller enterprises with less demands.
There are plenty of small enterprises in sectors like Media who need very high functionality as an example, but then there are large enterprises like some government departments that need low functionality, no, there is something else to consider. If we go back before the era of IT, to quaintly named Office Automation in the 1980s running on a Mini Computer with green screen users the name that springs to mind is Wang. Move forward into the 90s and the shift to Information Technology, IT, and its Microsoft running on PCs with market leading Wang all but dead. I don’t recall cost being the issue, but I do recall a massive change in working practice around ‘information’ being the issue.
Wang was just great at producing letters, and other structured format documents, for printing, the idea of creating text for passing between PC users in a digital form arrived with the PC, and with it the need for strikingly different functionality around embedding pictures, spreadsheets etc. In many organisations this, what I will call ‘desktop’ working functionality remains key internally, but in some places we can see the impact of something different around collaborative working externally. To me the question is; are you looking for a hosted ‘document’ environment for shared collaborative working on an ad hoc basis with others? Or, are you looking for a controlled internal environment for information management?
Put this way the features and functions of both Microsoft Office and Google Apps seem to make a lot more sense. I look forward to seeing your views on this!