In my initial look at Google’s Calendar product, I mentioned that I had some thoughts to share on what it meant for Google and its competitors in the calendar field. Well, obviously I got a bit sidetracked with taxes and the like, but with that out of the way here are a couple of quick thoughts:
- Repent, the Time of Google Office is At Hand:
Over the past 12 to 18 months, chatter about the possibility of a Google Office has crescendoed, hitting a relative peak last Thursday with the release of Calendar. Read/WriteWeb (and ZDNet)’s Richard MacManus, one of the documenters of all things Web 2.0, concludes that this is “yet another pointer” to an upcoming “Google Web Office.” I agree. In fact, I think Google Office is already here, it’s just not labeled as such.
Is it possible to envision a scenario in which Google decides to implement the following:
1. Basic calendaring system as youd find in Yahoo Mail (only its actually usable given the performance)
2. POP/IMAP access for clients
3. Forwarding/domain services
and we see SMBs start to consider it? I think so.
Well, here we are, two full years and later and what’s happened? Google’s implemented all three of those things, and gone one step further by acquiring its way, via Writely, to basic online word processing. The combination of Google Hosted, Google Calendar, and Gmail mean that Google is officially a viable candidate for businesses that require basic, domain-branded messaging and calendaring abilities. Throw in Writely, and it’s a de facto office suite that permits email, calendaring, and word processing, which, if you’re scoring at home, are the basics of what just about every business requires these days. For those wondering why I’m leaving Reader out, it’s not b/c I personally don’t care for the product, but b/c RSS/Atom penetration is low enough that I don’t see many clamoring for an aggregator in their office toolset.
Is it competitive with the Office/Exchange combination? Not remotely, at least on a feature basis. But, as much as the Microsoft folks with their focus on (integrated) ‘innovation’ might disagree with me, I remain convinced that the office sale is not driven by features these days. It’s rather a focus on things like training and deployment concerns, ease of use, and total cost of ownership. Judged on that basis, Google’s Office Suite – whether they choose to package and brand it so officially – scores pretty well. Office might not be dead, as Gillmor likes to claim, but it does have in my view an important new competitor.
- Speaking of Exchange…:
How big a threat are the Google offerings to Microsoft’s popular Exchange/Outlook combination? In the midsized business realm – by which I mean businesses with headcounts in the hundreds or low thousands – I very much doubt that Google’s Web Office will be a significant threat in the short to medium term (i.e. the next couple of years). First, there’s the pain of migration, from both the sysadmin and user perspectives, but more importantly there’s the cost question. Counter intuitively, the free nature of Google’s offerings is likely to be a significant throttle to business adoption of the platform.
But are there lots of opportunities outside of that market? I think absolutely yes, and the interesting thing is that much like many businesses have selected Exchange at least partially because its front end, Outlook, is more familiar to end users than, say, Lotus Notes – Gmail potentially has that kind of advantage over Outlook. Gmail has the ability to get itself used by exponentially more users than can Outlook, thus creating a potential advantage with respect to training and rollout.
It will also be interesting to see if Google can provide another answer to the question I saw asked recently: why not just use Exchange? The question was from a Digg thread, I think, and was asked after the commenter’s firm had tried – and failed – a variety of cobbled together approaches for their messaging/calendaring needs. Exchange was, and indeed still is, a very credible solution in that space, but what’s interesting is that its initial success was fueled by what it didn’t have, rather than what it did. It wasn’t an application platform, as was its competitor Lotus Notes, and it succeeded on that basis. Is it possible that Google’s Web Office can do the same thing to Exchange by lowering the bar even further? Seems possible.
- What About the Would-be Exchange Killers?:
While the impact may be felt longer term, I do think that firms such as Scalix or Zimbra will be affected by the arrival of Google Calendar. We, for one, were very much in the market for one of those types of products, and I’m now actively considering Google as an alternative. Much as is the case with Exchange, Google can not compete effectively on a feature basis with packages such as Zimbra, which has the ability to integrate applications such as Salesforce.com right into the messaging layer.
But consider the barriers to entry: with Google, there are virtually none. I can sign up and be productive more or less immediately. Zimbra et al? Not so much. In the best case, I can obtain and run a version of Zimbra for free, but that leaves me with the responsibility of running, backing up and maintaining my own mail server – a job I have no interest in. I can outsource that job to someone else via hosting, but that’s not a pain-free process either.
Is there still a market for the likes of Zimbra? Sure. But it may be smaller than it was last week.
- And What of the Stand Alone Calendar Players?:
Because of the extreme pains we’ve had with scheduling and calendaring, I’ve had occasion to check out more than a few of the standalone calendar players such as 30boxes, Airset, Kiko, etc – here’s what I had to say about Trumba. And I’ve been impressed in most cases; these guys have clearly thought long and hard about how to innovate within a space that’s been stagnant for years.
But here’s the problem: I don’t want a stand alone calendaring client. I’d prefer to be able to schedule meetings, for example, directly from my email client. Messaging and calendaring, to me, are not easily divorced from one another, but that’s the approach (necessarily) those firms have taken.
Can they still have success? Probably, but again, the opportunity is smaller than it was last week.
In the meantime, I’m very much enjoying my several day old experiment with Google Calendar, though the granularity of its functionality does introduce some new challenges. More on all that later.
Disclaimer: Apologies, forgot the disclaimer. Anyhow, of the mentioned firms, IBM and Microsoft are RedMonk clients, while 30boxes, Airset, Google, Kiko, Scalix, Trumba and Zimbra are not.