That really is my question as the news of Google’s latest purchase spreads through the blogosphere starting with Om Malik last night. Google today snapped up Writely, a web based word processor which Scoble says it was written in .NET – how ironic for Google. Still, it is intriguing to think about the implications. This is not just theory any longer, this proves that Google is going after a “Google Office” product offering that would match the basic abilities of Microsoft’s Office Standard Edition. But for free! Or at least we believe it would be free.

Good Enough
It really comes down to that question or statement depending on how you look at it. Is a free basic office offering enough to satisfy the needs of the average person? Would it matter that it was online and not available locally? The needs of the average person are really quite simple compared to the fancy volumous documentation that is created in corporate environments. If you haven’t tried out Writely, you may be amazed at how much word processing power is stuffed into the web browser by this service. And there are other services that offer additional “office” product solutions. Take JotSpot Tracker or iRows for example, both online spreadsheets. Or, an online presentation application. There is also gOffice, which I’ve not had a chance to look into yet, that has most all this on one site. And as Kent Newsome asks – how viable is the “free” web application model when online advertising dries up?

Potential of “Google Office”
So what would Google productivity applications/services really bring to the average user? Obviously search will factor into the services greatly – and end to needing to file everything in a structured environment. You could simply “tag” each document and then search on tags and other criteria to find your documents. Gmail would fit in as a natrual piece, bringing their new chat service and upcoming Calendar services as well. Imagine including “GDrive“, as Mathew Ingram mentions, where a user could store all their online (and then some) documents, drawings, pictures, etc… Don’t forget Picasa, Google Desktop & Toolbar, Google Earth, and Blogger and you have one wide ranging powerful environment. Can Google tie all these pieces together to make a cohesive environement? How will the rumoured Google Network and Google Cube work into this?

Impact on Microsoft
How does this impact Microsoft, does it matter and what should they do to respond? I’m sure Microsoft could conjour up a competitive offering on one of the Windows Live sites, or slash prices on their low-end Office offering, or simply ignore the potential that Google is creating altogether. But what if Microsoft responds in kind, putting the full force of developers, designers, and visionaries into this venue as well? How does that change the computing landscape as we use it today? Does a Google Office really change anything, I mean, business will continue to use full-fleged applications that they can control, patch and upgrade. They will want to manage their own data for security & integrity reasons, especially if you factor in SOX requirements.

The Real Costs
Another question is what the real costs of online free applications might be? Again, the data security, integrity and federal regulatory questions come to mind, along with requirement that you must be online to access your data. How do you adapt to a world where your data is not physically near you – do you copy it on thumb-drives and carry it with you everywhere? Does it matter with all the smart devices we are starting to carry, or the ubiquitous WiFi and broadband data options from mobile phone carriers? Really, if your BlackBerry, Smartphone, Pocket PC or laptop can connect at anything from 128kbs on the low-end, to over 1Mb on the high-end mobile networks and hit WiFi hotspots – does it matter if your life is online?

Take it to the next level – all you need is a good mobile phone and one of the new Origami or Ultra-Mobile PCs to get the job done – from nearly anywhere.

Update 1:  Another web-based word processor is Zoho Writer – part of Zoho’s online suite of productivity solutions which include a spreadsheet, planner, CRM, collaboration tools and much more.  Thanks Raju!

Via: Om Malik, Robert Scoble, Mathew Ingram, Kent Newsome, Desktop Pipeline, TechCrunch

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