Microsoft (MSFT) has finally launched a subscription-based version of Office, code-named “Albany.” (Currently in private beta). This won’t be a direct Google Apps competitor, but it will presumably mimic some of the convenience and simplicity of Google’s offering. WSJ:
Bryson Gordon, group product manager for Microsoft Albany, said on the company’s Web site that the test was designed to address consumer demand.
“Consumers…expressed frustration at having to spend time and effort installing different types of software, keeping current on new versions and getting their computers set up,” he said.
“We found from our research that when you bring these categories together and keep them automatically updated, a subscription model makes a lot of sense.”
Amazing! After three years of having early adopters rave about even the limited functionality of Google’s offerings, Microsoft’s “research” finally reveals what all the fuss is about.
One of the main attractions of Google Apps, of course, is that they are free. If Microsoft is really aiming a subscription-based Office at consumers, therefore, it will likely have to experiment with this attribute, too. Office’s functionality is still superior to Google Apps’, but “convenient and free” still beats “convenient”–assuming Microsoft can produce a good subscription service.
The other problem with Albany is that it just an automated downloading and updating of client-side software. Office is the embodiment of “fat client” software, and unless the updating is handled well, consumers will be annoyed by this process, too. One of the advantages Google has in this battle is that it has designed its product from scratch to take advantage of the cloud. Microsoft, meanwhile, is just retrofitting a product designed for stand-alone PCs.
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