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A comparative cornucopia of online office ‘sweets’

Cornucopia of online office suite logosThe current implementation of Microsoft Office as we know it is dead – at least that is the conclusion I read between the lines of a “Read/WriteWeb article” by Richard MacManus. Taking the opportunity of today’s public beta release of Zoho’s Meeting, MacManus compares and considers many of the emerging office suite software services including Google Apps, Microsoft Office Live, Zoho, ThinkFree, and Zimbra – so should you.

The king of office software suites is dead … it doesn’t mean it’s going away, it’s just not going to further evolve as the client-side vertical product many Churches and Charities know as Office 2003.

I’ll prove this by asking these five thought provoking, rhetorical questions:

  1. How much is your church and/or charity spending on the following must-have office/communications applications?
    • email
    • email spam and virus protection
    • group calendaring
    • word processing
    • spreadsheets
    • presentation applications
    • wikis
    • blogs
    • chat
    • planning
  2. Now the next killer question: how much do you pay per seat – that is – do you keep your Church out of trouble by buying individual licenses of the above products for each and every member of the church staff?
  3. How about this common scenario: what happens when church staff wants to work from home, a mission trip, or are a lay person in need of collaborating from a variety of locations and computing platforms?
  4. How many of your lay persons or church staff actually use the advanced features built into Word, Excel, etc …?
  5. Finally, how many of your church staff and/or lay persons would move off the Windows operating system if they had access to a viable office suite?

These were questions I and others alluded to a few years back when Microsoft was strutting about smug in the knowledge that they still owned the desktop work space because there was no viable office solution alternatives other than the girthy OpenOffice.

The Software as a Service model has changed all that, as reflected in Richard MacManus’ comparative entitled “Web Office Suite: Who’s Leading The Pack?

In the article, MacManus leads off excellently by defining exactly what constitutes an office suite:

First of all let’s summarize what exactly is a Web Office suite. Such a beast should have, at the least, the following apps in it: email, calendar, word processing, spreadsheets, presentations. These are the core products of Microsoft Office, the dominant office suite package. You could also make a case for apps like contacts manager, task manager or even project management to be in the core products, but we’ll keep things real simple in this case. So here’s how the Web Office contenders shape up …

This followed up with some tables and notes that I strongly encourage you to consume and consider.

I’d also ask you to consider this killer paragraph from the article:

A note about Microsoft. Currently it has a number of different offerings, all under the ‘Office Live’ banner – there are 7 products listed on this page, including Office Live Premium and Office Live Groove. But as yet, no sign that Microsoft will risk its massive desktop Office revenues, by offering an online office suite. Indeed, that may never happen – as Microsoft attempts to create a desktop/online hybrid around its ‘services’ strategy.

Indeed is right, as I was privy to a conversation with a Microsoft product manager at the SIIA this past April where he essentially stated along similar lines Microsoft’s desire to attempt to have the best of both worlds … mostly along the ‘application service provider‘ model. A model I heard referenced religiously more than once this past October by development staff at the Microsoft Patterns & Practices conference whenever I asked about Software as a Service implementation.

To me, this is a recipe for mass confusion – in that in doing neither well, or at least not well enough for churches and charities – they’ll lose that and a few other significant segments of their user base; just before they lose a growing  mobile business sector who is increasingly demanding the ability to move off the static desk top and into the dynamic and collaborative web space.

Change is coming folks, and those that try to serve two masters – whether as a software provide and/or a consumer thereof – need to make strong consideration of what they’re using to produce both hard copy and online documentation, presentations and data stores.

Meaning, now is the time to see if Zoho, Google Apps and or various others are better suited to the office needs of your church and/or charitable organization.