Between The Spreadsheets

Google just fired a shot across the bow of Microsoft yesterday with the release of Google Spreadsheets, an online tool that lets users create and share spreadsheets online without the need to have Excel on their computers.

Over at Signal vs. Noise they’re speculating that this is all a head-fake to distract Microsoft from search, which is Google’s bread and butter industry. There may be something to that, although I suspect Google knows that Microsoft’s attempts to dominate search will fail. Software as a service is becoming increasingly common, and Google has a major head start against Windows Live. Microsoft may rule the roost in the OS market, but their online initiatives have sputtered – just look at MSN.

What makes Google’s tools better is that they don’t have the feature bloat of Office or even For instance, Excel or Calc have tons of features that most users never or rarely need. If you’re trying to post the schedule for your softball team as a spreadsheet, what option is easier: doing it in Excel and emailing it around or sharing it via Google Spreadsheets? I’d wager most people only need the most basic functionality, and Google’s system is as fast and responsive as a desktop application.

Google may be firing a shot over the bow of Microsoft or perhaps its all a head fake to protect their search interests. For all of Google’s ethical problems and faults, they’re still an innovative company, and I trust them a hell of a lot more than I’d trust Microsoft. Microsoft’s core internet strategy is to use it to keep people in the Windows/Office fold – and as a Macintosh/OpenOffice/iWork user that strategy doesn’t excite me in the least. Microsoft needs to push those cash cows in order to survive, while Google can easily push into their territory cheaply and easily.

I’ve always predicted Microsoft would be a victim of their own success and institutional hubris – much as IBM was in the mid-1980s. Microsoft’s virtual monopoly into the OS market means they have to not only push upgrades, but expand into new markets as well. Given the way in which other markets have already established competitors that Microsoft can’t so easily buy out as they had previously, the days of Microsoft being the 800lbs gorilla of every field they enter may be coming to a close.

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