The Last Podcast Opinionated Web 2.0 News and Commentary


2 May 2008 @ 12am


It’s not Either/Or: Desktop Office Suites vs. Web Office Suites

I find myself partly agreeing with Randall C. Kennedy over at Infoworld when he says that what he calls a “Streaming Office Suite” will eventually kill the pure online office suites (see his post for a full  definition of a streaming app – it’s basically a chopped up version of software that is downloaded and cached onto a computer on demand).

Faced with a decision between a watered-down, limited, web-dependent pseudo-suite and the full power and richness of Microsoft Office, users will flock to the Microsoft camp – especially if the company prices a “pay as you go” Office aggressively. And then it will be “game over” for Google Apps and its ilk.

Sridhar Vembu from Zoho doesn’t quite agree with this (no real surprise there, I guess):

Let me make a bold prediction of my own: streaming office will fail. Note that I am not talking about MS office per se here – I am suggesting that the streaming incarnation of it will fail. Web suites, including Zoho, will succeed in carving out serious market share. Within that space, our own goal is sustainable, profitable market share, that keeps us vibrant and innovative. With our breadth and depth of applications, we are well on our way.

I think this is an interesting question that really stabs into the heart of how our computing experience will look like five years from now – but I don’t think this is an either/or question. Web apps, desktop apps and ‘streaming apps’ (if they ever become a reality) can happily live together and all of them have distinctive advantages over the others.

Web office suites right now are highly limited in their functionality. None of the apps out right now have the capabilities to even barely rival MS Office 2007 or OpenOffice. Over time, of course, that could change and with more of the web suites allowing local caching, at least you don’t have to be online all the time anymore to use them and they are lighweight – but their functionality is very limited.

As you can see, I’m not a big fan of the current breed of web office suites – they just don’t do the things I need them to do my work just yet. However, they are improving quickly and today’s versions will look quite antiquated just a year from now.

Sure, as Sridhar points out, a web suite is light on local computing resources, allowing it to run acceptably on even old machines – but with computing power still following Moore’s law and most desktop suites not really needing a lot of computing power, I’m not sure that is really important to most users right now and will be even less in the future. Also, I just opened a 50 page Word document and Word is taking up about 50 megabytes of memory, while Firefox is using up 70 megabytes with three tabs open.

Right now, I’m using Office 2007 together with the Office Live Workspace, which gives me online storage for my documents, check-in/check-out functionality and the full power of my desktop office suite. Combined with an online backup solution, it’s really the best of both worlds. Over time, I assume Microsoft is going to integrate a lot of this with the Mesh architecture and integrating some editing functions as well.

Maybe desktop apps are just a stop-gap solution for now, but for the time being, I simply see a lot more future in web-enabled desktop office suites than pure online suites right now, but I would be more than happy if the online suite crowd proved me wrong over time. In the end, I simply want the best tool for my work and I’m agnostic to how that is delivered to me.