It’s no secret that Google, the (supposedly) friendly giant of the web, wants to pummel Microsoft into oblivion.
With this goal in mind the company has recently engaged in a drunken sailor’s spending spree of epic proportions, purchasing all sorts of web-based software start-ups in an effort to top-up their stable of products.
Just last week, for example, they blew an undisclosed sum on the 6-month-old web-based PowerPoint aspirant, Zenter.
The stated business goal of Zenter’s founders, Wayne Crosby and Robby Walker, was to affect that purchase precisely. (While that may seem like a cutting-edge business strategy, there are in fact scores of products that target the inebriated. [See correction note at end of posting.]
Google’s own strategy seems to centre around building a suite of web-based software tools worthy of doing battle with Microsoft’s desktop offerings.
And they want to undercut the traditional software publisher’s business by giving it all away for free (at least for now).
For example, the Google Docs application is a barebones answer to Microsoft’s stalwart Word and Excel products.
I’ve spent that past couple of months testing Google’s web-based suite of tools with some of my work. While the experience didn’t put me out of pocket at all, I’ve learned that “free” is a rather subjective term.
In fact, the price tag for using Google’s web applications is not measured in dollars and cents, but in more ephemeral things like in frustration, anger, unhappiness, and grief.
In fact, they have a long way to go before I would recommend anyone depend on them for anything more than just goofing around.
There’s a very good reason that pretty much all of Google’s online software offerings sport the term, “beta.”
With this tag, they’re publicly admitting that their products are not quite up to the standards that we normally associate with products we use and trust every day.
They’re also poking some fun at their users, who they obviously view as a large farm of guinea pigs.
Google’s actually making money off this obedient rodent population who are subjected to an endless barrage of the eponymous Google Ad.
If it respected its user base, Google would finally publish non-beta versions of its most popular products, like Gmail, and offer proper support and service guarantees.
As it stands, you’re on your own if anything goes wrong.
The web is littered with tales of people who have lost their entire email database to Gmail, only to have Google innocently shrug and hide behind the “beta” tag.
Over the course of my time using Google I’ve been stymied by all sorts of problems with the environment.
I’ve lost data: two word processing documents, three spreadsheets, and over a dozen emails at last count.
I’ve spent hours tutoring colleagues on the most basic points of the Google interfaces which are less than intuitive. Older users in particular seem to be stymied by Google’s geek-driven look and feel.
I’ve had to constantly battle issues of incompatibility.
One Geek Love column I delivered directly from Google Docs arrived as gobbledegook at the News’ Inbox.
Google Calendar has proven completely incompetent at importing calendar events from other, open-standard calendaring environments.
Meanwhile, commercial products like Apple iCal and Microsoft Outlook handled the same events flawlessly.
And I’ve grown immeasurably frustrated by the simple fact that I must access Google’s tools in a web browser.
This frustration is intensified by Google’s lack of support for my favourite web browser, Apple Safari.
Google’s gotta get off the bottle and start tending to the beta-suffering rodent population if they ever want their software tools to be taken seriously.
In other words, come home from your shopping spree, Google, and improve your levels of quality and service.
Upgrade your existing products to a mission-critical level of quality.
Provide proper service level guarantees, particularly for data. Put some effort into making your software more comprehensible and easier to use.
And wipe that beta-smirk off your face. It’s so Web 2.0. We’re in a new era now.
The end result of my time with Google’s online tools is this: I don’t trust them. They failed me enough times that’s it’s unlikely I would ever consider using them again for anything important.
For the time being, Microsoft’s position at the top of the software food chain is assured.
However, Gates and Co. can’t afford to rest on their laurels.
The software giant needs to pull its head out of the 90s and realize that affordable, distributed internet-based productivity tools such as those Google provides are in demand.
Because once Google puts away the rum, gets a good night’s sleep, and deals with its rodent problem, it will be a software force to be reckoned with.
[Note: this blog entry was updated to remove comments regarding Zenter’s business goals, which were sourced from a third party. Zenter’s Robby Walker says that, “We did not design our business to be acquired by Google or anyone else. We designed our business to build great online presentation software.” Thanks for the opportunity to set that straight, Robby.]