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Office Live, you're no Google Docs

Microsoft reaches a milestone with Office Live--but it still doesn't give us what we want.

Microsoft has announced a milestone with its Office Live Workspace product: It's scored its millionth user. And the company has announced the product will be out of beta this year.

Yay, Microsoft. Now go back and build the service we want, please.

There are people who say that Office Live is a Google Docs competitor. It certainly could be, someday, and I'd like to see that. But it's not right now. What it is right now is a way for people who have paid for the Microsoft Office suite to share files with other people who have the suite. It's useful, but it's no Google Docs, nor Zoho for that matter.

Those other productivity suites are a) free, and b) browser-based. They don't require that you pay for and then install software on your PC.

As ZDNet's Mary Jo Foley writes, Microsoft believes that users don't want to create big files and documents "on the Web." Maybe that's because they can't.

Offlice Live does have its own text editor, but it's rather weak and doesn't have Google Docs' killer feature: simultaneous editing. If someone edits a document you've got open and you then try to save it, you get a conflict error and have to decide whose edits you want to kill.

I believe Microsoft could make an honest Google Docs competitor without killing its Microsoft Office business. Eventually, Microsoft will have to. So it might be smart for Microsoft to encourage people to start thinking about the company as an expansive supplier of productivity solutions--desktop and Web-based--rather than just a company that makes desktop office products that, by the way, also have some add-on Web support.

Tidbit: Office Live Workspace works nicely in Internet Explorer and also in Firefox. But you get a blocking error page if you try to use it in Google Chrome.