10 Questions from Microsoft – 10 Answers from The Open Sourcerer

Hello, Alan Bell here guest blogging on the Open Sourcerer.

On Monday Mary Joe Foley posted a statement and a list of 10 questions Microsoft want journalists to ask about the Google Apps Premier Edition. I figured they deserve some answers considering what they mean to both Google apps and OpenOffice.org.

Given the recent announcements about IBM joining the OpenOffice.org community with their Lotus Notes 8 productivity editors, anywhere below where I mention OpenOffice.org, feel free to substitute “IBM Lotus Notes 8 Productivity Editors” if you prefer.

1. Google touts having enterprise level customers but how many “USERS” of their applications truly exist within the enterprise?

Well it is certainly true that Microsoft have a heck of a lot of customers, but so what? Are they implying that enterprise level customers can’t change? Some enterprises do have problems responding to changes in the needs of their customers, these are the ones that fail. Microsoft’s customers now want open standard file formats and interoperability between tools. Microsoft would do well to respond to the changing needs of it’s enterprise level customers.
OpenOffice.org is already in use at many government, academic and private sector organisations around the world. Calculating a total number of users is always going to be an inaccurate and pointless exercise (much like the total number of Microsoft Office users) but the list is constantly growing.

2. Google has a history of releasing incomplete products, calling them beta software, and issuing updates on a “known only to Google” schedule – this flies in the face of what enterprises want and need in their technology partners – what is Google doing that indicates they are in lock step with customer needs?

Gosh. Microsoft actually said that?? Wow. Hardly any need to comment really. Microsoft has a history of releasing incomplete products, calling them their latest and greatest finished product that everyone should upgrade to now. Google are famously conservative about the production readiness of their products, hence the Beta tag they put on things. It is a matter of setting expectations, and being driven by engineering rather than marketing.
OpenOffice.org has a roadmap. Not only do they have a high level roadmap showing release schedules, for each release such as the next one, version 2.3 they have a detailed set of milestones and dates for the stages of the release, plus public reporting of the status against these milestones. 2.3 is due out next Monday, 17th September. Customers can see in detail the release coming together, they don’t just get a press release full of positive spin telling them that there is a delay.

3. Google touts the low cost of their apps –not only price but the absence of need for hardware, storage or maintenance for Google Apps. BUT if GAPE is indeed a complement to MSFT Office, the costs actually become greater for a company as they now have two IT systems to run and manage and maintain. Doesn’t this result in increased complexity and increased costs?

Well having two IT systems to pay for could get a bit expensive. Google apps cost $50 per year. Microsoft Office costs $500 or so each time you upgrade. Now if you wanted to reduce costs which one would you ditch? To reduce complexity and costs it would be great if the desktop Office suite you are using in the enterprise and the complementary web based office suite both used the same file format, lets say something like the ISO standard ODF format perhaps? Well with OpenOffice.org as your desktop office suite you will get better interoperability with Google apps than you will with the Microsoft Office suite because both of them do use ODF as the file format.

4. Google’s primary focus is on ad funded search. Their enterprise focus and now apps exist on the very fringe and in combination with other fringe services only account for 1% of the company’s revenue. What happens if Google executes poorly? Do they shut down given it will them in a minimal and short term way? Should customers trust that this won’t happen?

So do you trust a company who’s stated ethos is “don’t be evil” or Microsoft who have a different ethos?
OpenOffice.org is an Open Source application licensed under the LGPL, it is decentralized and anyone can take the code and improve it at any time. Microsoft’s code is proprietary. If Microsoft stopped releasing new versions then nobody else can pick up the baton and run with it. If OpenOffice.org stop releasing new versions then anyone can pick it up and resume. Neither is particularly likely. It isn’t particularly probable that Google would turn off their web based apps. If any of these hypothetical situations happened, the only one that would cause a problem would be if they were locked in to Microsoft.

5. Google’s apps only work if an enterprise has no power users, employees are always online, enterprises haven’t built custom Office apps – doesn’t this equal a very small % of global information workers today? –On a feature comparison basis, it’s not surprising that Microsoft has a huge lead.

The google apps are fantastic for online collaborative document production. As Microsoft correctly points out this isn’t the only way to work, you also need a desktop suite for when you are out in the field or perhaps on an airplane, that would be why Singapore airlines are installing Redhat Linux with StarOffice on the seatback computers in business and economy. You can take your documents in ODF format and plug your USB key into your inflight computer and carry on working. Shame Microsoft want to make it hard to interoperate by not using ODF as their default file format. Google apps work well as a complement to a desktop suit. They just work a bit better when it is not Microsoft’s desktop suite.

6. Google apps don’t have essential document creation features like support for headers, footers, tables of content, footnotes, etc. Additionally, while customers can collaborate on basic docs without the above noted features, to collaborate on detailed docs, a company must implement a two part process – work together on the basic doc, save it to Word or Excel and then send via email for final edits. Yes they have a $50 price tag, but with the inefficiencies created by just this one cycle, how much do GAPE really cost – and can you afford the fidelity loss?

Fidelity loss is mainly caused by Microsoft’s refusal to use a file format designed for interoperability. I would think that any features that are genuinely useful would be added by Google over time, and as a bonus Google would release these without their customer needing to buy the product all over again.
OpenOffice.org supports headers, footers, tables of contents, authorities, indexes etc. Chances are you can set up a document with these features, upload to google docs, work on the content collaboratively and take it back out to OpenOffice.org with the headers, footers, contents etc intact and updated. I haven’t tried that yet, but I guess it would be an interesting experiment.

7. Enterprise companies have to constantly think about government regulations and standards – while Google can store a lot of data for enterprises on Google servers, there is no easy to use, automated way for enterprises to regularly delete data, issue a legal hold for specific docs or bring copies into the corp. What happens if a company needs to respond to government regulations bodies? Google touts 99.9% uptime for their apps but what few people realize that promise is for Gmail only. Equally alarming is the definition Google has for “downtime” – ten consecutive minutes of downtime. What happens if throughout the day Google is down 7 minutes each hour? What does 7 minutes each hour for a full work day that cost an enterprise?

Anyone noticed Google being down 7 minutes each hour on a regular basis? Thought not.
I don’t really understand the regulation argument. I don’t recall any specific features Microsoft Office has in this direction. Google is a law abiding company based in the USA which, being the land of the free, has more government regulations than most other places.
Documents created with OpenOffice.org can be managed in such a way as to meet the business controls requirements imposed by Sarbanes Oxley or other regulatory regimes, just like Microsoft Office files can, I don’t see that bringing up government regulations adds much to the discussion.

8. In the world of business, it is always on and always connected. As such, having access to technical support 24/7 is essential. If a company deploys Google Apps and there is a technical issue at 8pm PST, Sorry. Google’s tech support is open M-F 1AM-6PM PST – are these the new hours of global business? And if a customer’s “designated administrator” is not available (a requirement) does business just stop?

Interesting. That isn’t what Google say:24/7 support for critical issues with Google Apps Premier Edition, including extended business hours telephone support for administrators.
Lets see what Microsoft’s support is like. . . Looks like 6am-6pm at £199 per call or £398 per call (plus VAT of course) out of those hours. Can’t see anything saying that Google are charging extra for support calls, looks like it is included in the $50 per year subscription.
OpenOffice.org has many support avenues, from IRC chats directly with the folk who write it, companies dedicated to Open Source such as our one, The Open Learning Centre to a network of consultants the world over. You can get support from wherever you want at whatever level you need. If you need a shoulder to cry on when your pie chart doesn’t look right at 2:45 am there is someone somewhere you can speak to.

9. Google says that enterprise customers use only 10% of the features in today’s productivity applications which implies that EVERYONE needs the SAME 10% of the feature when in fact it is very clear that in each company there are specific roles people play that demands access to specific information – how does Google’s generic strategy address role specific needs?

Google are not saying their applications provide 10% of the features of todays productivity applications. I would guess (remembering that 87% of all statistics are made up on the spot) they provide about 87% of the features for a single user, plus the collaborative editing and web based access to guest users is worth an additional 43% giving a grand total of 130% of the value of Microsoft Office.
I have been using OpenOffice.org for 4 years, exchanging all sorts of documents with clients. I haven’t yet found a feature that I needed to be missing.

10. With Google apps in perpetual beta and Google controlling when and if they rollout specific features and functionality, customers have minimal if any control over the timing of product rollouts and features – how do 1) I know how to strategically plan and train and 2) get the features and functionality I have specifically requested? How much money does not knowing cost?

This is a restatement of number 2. I guess they were struggling to get to a total of 10 points. Really they would have been better stopping at 9 if they didn’t have anything extra to say. There is an extra point hidden in there though, “how do I get the features and functionality I have specifically requested?” Well has anyone requested a specific feature to go into Microsoft Office? Would you be confident of getting it if you did? OpenOffice.org is rather different. If you want a specific feature then there are options open to you. You can suggest it directly to people already working in that area, write it yourself, pay someone to write it and contribute your improvement back to the project so that everyone gets the benefit of your improvement. Winning by sharing.

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