Online office apps and os’s: Why they won’t gain significant traction

By Brett Williams
Contributing Writer, [GAS] 

In one day, Yahoo acquired Zimbra, an online e-mail, document-authoring, and collaboration software suite with offline capabilities; Google officially launched its online presentation software; and on Read/WriteWeb, an article titled “Fear of Web2.0,” was posted about enterprise adoption of Web 2.0 applications.

 I see the Yahoo acquisition as an attempt to catch up with Google and its development of online software applications. Amongst its other products, Zimbra has developed an online spreadsheet document authoring application. Isn’t it Excel that made MS Office the default application for businesses? What I find interesting about Zimbra’s offering is how much it resembles a Microsoft product.

Conversely, Google seems excited about its online presentation software application.

The Read/WriteWeb article discusses enterprise adoption of Web 2.0 applications and current roadblocks. It is largely written in response to a Forrester Research report, “Web 2.0 Social Computing Dresses Up For Business.”

Will online document authoring replace the offline world?

Traditional office productivity products, such as word processors, spreadsheets, and presentation software, while having a small place online, will probably never gain a significant share of the application market. In terms of savings, or total cost of ownership, there’s not a big pull for enterprise-sized organizations to prompt an online move. The potential risk far outweighs the bottom-line effect.

Why? Because by moving to an online world for document authoring, organizations are handing over sensitive data to be stored on third-party servers. Even if the applications allow for offline use, the mindset is that the offline world is secondary to the online one, and that as soon as you log back on, synching occurs.

In a world where competition is increasing daily, corporate counterintelligence programs are becoming the norm, and in this instance, you would be hard pressed to find anyone with a counterintelligence background that would endorse using an online, document-authoring solution hosted by a third party. Corporations who DO adopt online services like these open themselves up to security breaches. Hackers may get to the software, and you do not have direct control over the IT department and or decision-making power over what happens. Within Google, Zimbra or whichever online, document-authoring tool you use, there are people with access to files from multiple corporations; and that many more people to risk being compromised.

They say one day we will use online operating systems regularly. To that, I say, “Yeah right!” Who in their right mind would allow a single company to have access to all their information? What business or individual would go for this?

Ok, so there are those that just don’t know, but there are many who do, and those who know, in this situation, I believe outnumber those who don’t. For any large scale shift to the online authoring of spreadsheets, word-processing documents, or online operating systems, large business would have to lead the way. In the interest of security, this doesn’t seem a likely scenario.

Note this interesting transcript from Bill Gates and Steve Jobs at D5, from this past May. The two men talk about “the cloud” and what could happen. I get the impression from the language that Steve sees online applications as plausible much more than Bill does.

To get a clearer vision of the online document authoring movement, contrast it against the current adoption of Linux. With its open source platform and significant ability for the user to control its environment, it is Linux that is seeing the most dramatic uptake from enterprises and home users.  Until this movement dies, my money is on the right of the individual and the need for the corporation to keep its secrets close to heart.

What I see in the next five to ten years is a world where a corporation has the ability to host its own office productivity applications. Employees can access work remotely, but all information is contained within the IT infrastructure of the company.

I’m interested to hear others thoughts on this, please share.