The Battle for the Desktop Just Went Airborne

B. Shimmin
B. Shimmin

Summary Bullets:

  • With enterprise users taking their documents on the road, Microsoft’s longstanding desktop productivity dominance has never looked so promising and so vulnerable.
  • Google’s acquisition of mobile-savvy productivity tools vendor QuickOffice promises to put the company on a much closer competitive trajectory opposite its primary collaboration rival, Microsoft.

Google’s surprise acquisition this week of productivity vendor QuickOffice has restored my faith in the company’s ability and desire to do combat with Microsoft on its home turf: the desktop.  That is, the desktop as we are beginning to understand it as a highly mobile, cloud-savvy, social platform.  For those still wondering what that might be, here is a hint.  The desktop of the near future is a tablet device like the Apple iPad and the Samsung Galaxy Tab.  The trouble for Google, of course, is that the Web search powerhouse has heretofore maintained steadfast devotion to what I’m sure its engineers would refer to as ‘the pure Web experience,’ a platform where everything lives in the cloud.  That vision is best exemplified in the company’s recently reinvigorated smart terminal project (Chromebooks and Chromeboxes), which promises a utopian situation for IT professionals by hoisting everything, even the desktop itself, into the cloud.

The trouble is that while the Chromebook approach will find a ready audience within specialized market segments such as education and government, the lion’s share of enterprise customers out there have already given into the ‘bring your own device’ (BYOD) and overall tablet trend.  For those lucky souls, the tablet is the new fat client.  It must be cared for and fed, fed with software and documents, most notably Microsoft Office documents and some software capable of editing those documents and synchronizing them with their now aging, traditional desktop brethren running Windows, Mac OS X or Linux.  This is a need well understood by QuickOffice, which lets mobile device users easily view and edit Microsoft Office documents on-device, synchronizing those documents with the cloud via popular synch services such as Dropbox, Google Docs and Box.  Whatever QuickOffice is doing, it’s doing it well, grabbing the number two paid app spot in Apple’s iTunes store.  This is not a feat to be taken lightly.

Unfortunately, history has shown that both Google and Microsoft have taken this entire trend rather lightly (literally), with both vendors pushing a browser-centric, cloud-dependent approach to document editing on mobile devices.  Fortunately, things are changing in both Redmond and Mountain View.  Rumors continue to swirl around a forthcoming native Windows 8 rendition of the Microsoft Office application itself (maybe even for iOS and Android as well).  Google, on the other hand, has already partially reversed course with the recent creation of Google Drive and a native client for Google Gmail.  The acquisition of QuickOffice accelerates, and will build directly upon, these new device-friendly moves, setting Google up to parry a potential thrust from Microsoft with Windows 8 and Microsoft Office running natively on mobile devices.  Regardless, IT administrators must prepare for a world where documents roam freely across the cloud, the desktop and mobile devices. 

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