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Competition comes to the Office market...on two fronts

Microsoft finally has credible Office competitors in OpenOffice (IBM) and Google Apps (Google, CapGemini). About time.

Microsoft may finally have a real fight on its hands to maintain its Office monopoly. In separate news over the last few days, Capgemini put its muscle behind Google Apps, as Nick Carr details, and today IBM announced that it will be contributing significant resources to the development of OpenOffice.

About time on both counts. Microsoft could use a little competition. It does its best work when it has real competitors.

From the OpenOffice announcement:

IBM will be making initial code contributions that it has been developing as part of its Lotus Notes product, including accessibility enhancements, and will be making ongoing contributions to the feature richness and code quality of Besides working with the community on the free productivity suite's software, IBM will also leverage technology in its products.

This translates into 35 developers, as Savio Rodrigues of IBM notes. That is significant headcount for any project, and especially one as interesting as OpenOffice.

See, OpenOffice isn't just interesting as a direct competitor to Microsoft Office. It's also interesting in how it gets sliced and diced into other projects (something to which IBM's announcement alludes). Alfresco, for example, embeds OpenOffice functionality into Alfresco to do file conversions and other functions. The better OpenOffice becomes, the better Alfresco's product becomes. We're not alone.

Google's announcement with Capgemini is also intriguing, though not open source. Here's just one reason (via Nick):

For the near term, Capgemini is pitching Apps largely as a complement to Microsoft Office. Google's package offers two immediate advantages, according to Jones. First, it allows the many thousands of workers who don't have their own PCs or their own copies of Office - from factory hands to call-center agents - to gain access to email, calendars, and other personal-productivity applications. Up to now, says Jones, licensing and data-storage costs have prohibited these "disenfranchised employees" from being given access to Office-style apps. Because Google charges only $50 a year per user for Apps and stores all email messages and other data in its own systems, it lowers the cost barrier substantially.

This is shrewd. Begin as a complement and end up as a substitute. I still think Google needs to clarify its privacy policy around Google Apps, but I believe it will (or already does, and hasn't told us yet) come down on the right side of that debate.

So, where does this leave us? With two big Microsoft competitors - IBM and Google - going for Microsoft's jugular. They're not attacking head-on, in either case, but rather disrupting with disruptive distribution and development methodologies.

I can't imagine this being bad for customers. Not in the slightest.