A new study from market researchers NPD has found that 73% of surveyed PC users have "never heard of and never tried...online, browser-based office productivity applications like Google Docs, Google Spreadsheets, gOffice, etc." Roughly 4 percent of respondents said they had heard of these apps and sometimes or often used them.
Blogs around the web are freaking out about how low these adoption numbers are, but I don't think there's really cause for alarm.
Joe Wilcox at Microsoft Watch says it's time to start printing up SKUs, putting them in an otherwise empty box and having computer sales people dish them out during hardware purchases (the .Mac and AppleCare model) or else it's RIP the Web 2.0 Office Suite. Mary Jo Foley at Microsoft Watch says Microsoft is being smart not chasing the small web office market that bloggers insist is the future, but still moving to incorporate online functionality with existing products.
Path to Market is Only Just Beginning
Here's why I don't think there's cause for alarm. First, either these things compete or they don't. Right now Google apps aren't very good. They're good enough for me as a Mac user but they aren't essential, either.
The fact that 20% of surveyed users had heard of Google Apps is a surprise to me, and if you can consistently get 20 people in a room and find that 1 of them actually uses Google Apps - I'd say that's surprisingly strong adoption. There's been very little advertising, there haven't been new distribution channels created on the level that desktop software has developed and all of this is relatively new. Give it a couple of years after colleges have been using Google Apps for awhile and then you'll see some serious adoption. I remember hearing about Facebook when I was in school and thinking, "well that sounds obscure." Look at it now.
Is online collaboration going to be a game changer in the business world? It probably is, and the game will be changed by two groups of stake holders: forward looking players in traditional companies (see our coverage of The Working Group for example) and small, agile companies that can out-compete slower competitors by leveraging tools like online office apps.
We'll see how everything plays out, but for now I think that awareness and adoption is actually surprisingly strong.