This is the perspective of a “skeptical, later early adopter”; the sort of person who Microsoft needs to retain and should have been able to retain easily. I don’t spend time on productivity tools that may at some date make me more productive, but which today are just a frustrating time sink. That describes the majority of people. MS Office can be annoying, but it does work. So any serious alternative has to offer a significant advantage and at the same time make adoption a total breeze.
I think Google Apps has reached that point. The significant advantage is collaboration.
Since I started working on a new project where we all agreed to use Google Docs from the start, I have hardly used MS Office at all - even on other projects.
The lead product in Google Apps for me is their word processing product - i.e. the MS Word alternative. That may be because I am a wordsmith, but also because it is the most mature. I still use Excel, as Google Spreadsheet is both a pain to learn and not good enough for power users. Also there are better ways to collaborate with Excel, such as eXpresso. I don’t use Google Presentation, but that is because I am weaning myself off Powerpoint - as I think it is no longer the best presentation medium. If I want to persuade with words, I use words. If I want to persuade with multimedia, then it is time for video such as YouTube or maybe Seesmic and screencasting tools to show off an app. A PPT deck is very flat by contrast.
Google was very smart to take a loosely coupled approach. So I can use Document and ignore the others. I assume that the Spreadsheet product will be ready for prime time pretty soon. Google may buy/build services that make video plus screencasting plus a bit of standard presentation stuff a breeze for everyone. But until then, I can use Gmail and Documents and gradually get enticed into the other stuff.
The one big missing piece has been offline access. It was clear that Gears would enable this at some stage. It now appears that is not so far away. That will be a major driver for me to standardize more on Gmail; currently I split between Gmail and Outlook; and that is a pain to manage.
Not only is Google miles ahead of MS on collaboration, they have moved ahead on mobile access. I have long believed that mobile would be a key driver for Web Office. Now I can get access to my Docs from my Blackberry. When I switch to an iPhone with that bigger screen, I will be able to say “sayonara” to my laptop even more. In that world, MS Office looks like a real dinosaur.
The latest aha moment for me came when I started using Remember The Milk. I was very skeptical at first. The last thing I needed was the distraction of learning another way of managing to do lists; first to do, learn new way to list to do items, grrr! When I saw RTM load into Gmail as a sidebar I warmed. Then I saw that RTM was very mobile friendly and I was sold (well took the free version at any rate, I do feel I should send that $25 for Pro as Bob T. Monkey is clearly an amazing developer and a huge inspiration to coder-monkeys everywhere).
Seriously, the point is that Google Docs is a platform. The two smart people in Australia (Ed, what is it about you guys in the Southern Hemisphere?) who created RTM can plug into Docs as if they owned it.
The other platform out there for wordsmiths is Wordpress. It's free, open source, has a plug-in architecture and there is a Dummies book about the software (a sure sign of market traction). So the looming real battle is maybe Google Docs/Blogger versus Wordpress. Or, Mozilla Thunderbird versus Gmail. Microsoft really does look like they have the classic “Innovator’s Dilemma“. I thought that Ray Ozzie’s mission was to cannibalize Office before somebody else did it; if that is the play, they are leaving it a bit late!
There is one other reason why Google will win this battle. They have the economic engine. I am not just talking about cross subsidization from their search engine cash cow; Google do that just like Microsoft did it from their Windows/Office cash cow. What is interesting is that Google has figured out how to make ads in Gmail at least vaguely relevant. Sure there is some dumb stuff there, but quite a few that are relevant. The point is that the search engine has more to work on, all of my text and not just my search query. Our expectations on search are so low, that just “not totally dumb and occasionally slightly relevant” gets a cheer. I have actually clicked on a Gmail ad.
They can clearly also insert ads in Docs. Do I care? It is a bit spooky, but as long as Google really takes the high road on privacy, I have the freedom to ignore and I may occasionally even find something useful. I assume I can always opt to pay a subscription and be ad free.
Solid economic engine, good on collaboration/mobile, increasingly mature/ready for prime time…Yes, Google Docs looks like a major winner.