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WordPad's ruler now matched by Google Docs

WordPad's ruler now matched by Google Docs

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At the beginning of the week, Anil Sabharwal, Product Manager, for Google Apps wrote a blog post “ Laying the foundation for a new Google Docs”  Please do read it: I found it thought provoking to hear how Google articulates the excitement of their new groundbreaking features: 

·         Users will now have the ability to move columns in Spreadsheets

·         A ruler has been added to Google Docs. Rumor is the WordPad Team is very nervous about that leap in productivity gain.  (Yes that’s a joke.)

Their announcement translated into lots of press coverage and interesting commentary in the blogosphere. Paul Thurott’s post on “Much Ado About Nothing” was certainly humorous and sparked interesting commentary from readers.  

The thought of this announcement provoked me to blog from the other side of the productivity fence. What do I make of this announcement?  WARNING: I will be quite critical of some aspects of Google Apps, but let's be clear from the start. In general I think Google is full of very smart people, some are personal friends. They have an excellent track record in consumer search and advertising. My comments are not about questioning the cloud as a delivery model. We are ‘all in’ and the RTM of Office 2010 and SharePoint 2010 will delight customers and raise the bar for all vendors to match, Google included. 

I take exception with how Google continues to provide backhanded compliments to every Office user in the world by telling them they don’t need certain features to be creative, productive, and efficient.  My favorite jab is from Dave Girouard, President Google Enterprise, "Office will become something like Photoshop, something that a few users need. It's not really the right tool for most people."   Which features would those be?  Maybe he’s saying we should remove a feature used by 1% of our user base and abandon those 5 million people. These are real users with real needs.  That feature might be used by teachers, scientists, lawyers or heck grad students at Stanford writing a business case for a new search start up.  

Shockingly what didn’t cause much of a fuss was Google’s removal of the ‘Offline’ feature enabled through Google Gears.  Guess they didn’t tell the VP of IT at Motorola’s Mobile Division (A Google Apps customer) who just this week called this an "an absolute must-have"  feature.  He should have read the terms of Google Apps more carefully which allows Google to pull features like this at their discretion.  Now that he has to uninstall the Gears Add On from 20,000 machines, he may want to adjust the project’s ROI calculations. My guess is he tracks this in Excel, not Google Spreadsheets.

What’s also interesting is that the new ‘version’ means users can’t bring over their old documents. If you want the ruler now available in the new word processor, you can’t open any existing documents you might have.  So either abandon those docs or live in two parallel worlds for a while.   UPDATE This sentence appears to be confusing people.  If you have docs created in the 'old' version they only appear to open in the old app.  Any doc created in the 'new' app lives there.  So in effect, you have two UX experiences side by side. What's worse is the new app removes (my count is 10 so far) features compared to the existing apps. 

Finally the better fidelity issues don’t seem to work for my tests. Even a ODS native document doesn’t render properly despite their support for the ODF alliance. Fonts change, charts disappear, all the same behavior expected when you mash everything into HTML as the default format.

Maybe this is why only a ‘few hundred thousand’ customers are willing to pay Google for this “innovation”. It certainly may offer explanation into the negative end user comments by employees at a “Gone Google” customer Jaguar Land Rover.  For example one former employee “Chris” commented:  Google mail and the new attitude to using awful software for a small cost reduction, is at the expense of worker productivity” 

 

In contrast to Google, we are about building for any run time environment.   Customers expect more from their productivity and collaboration tools. It is why we talk so much about PC, Phone and Browser.  For example, is it more important to enable 50 people to hammer my spreadsheet at once or enable it so that when they do, I get to say what cells, sheets etc.  they can or can’t edit? 

This is why we spend so much time and effort trying to build Office with end users in mind.  Shawn Lipstein’s post on the Office engineering blog gives you such great insight on how our usability labs in the Customer Experience Improvement Program drive research and insight into everything we do.    

My previous post gave you some insights into why customers pick our solutions over Google and I think last week’s post by Chris Dawson on the Googling Google  ZDNet blog says it all, “Office 2010 rocks out loud. I may spend a lot of time in the cloud, but I also often have to produce publication-ready documents. Besides, have you ever tried to do a mail merge in Google Docs? Of course you haven’t, because you can’t.”

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