Will the Market for Office Software Suites Ever Become Fully Cloud Based?

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The tools used for normal office work and general productivity in the workplace have certainly moved on a lot since the early days of Microsoft Office and its competitors. Office was the de facto tool in the late ’90s and early 2000s, but of course, this meant that companies needed licenses and products installed on every PC they were using, as well as servers for shared file systems and email. The cost of having in house people or consultants to set all this up and maintain it was an essential part of running a business that used IT in this way, which of course, all businesses were beginning to do at this time.

Moving to the Cloud

Now, of course, there are alternatives that use the cloud. These include Microsoft’s own 365 suite, and also Google’s suite of browser based office apps. Other cloud based suites are also available, but these are by far the most popular. There are also products designed to help businesses migrate from client based office products with their own servers to these types of cloud based solutions, such as the ExchangeSavvy public folder migrator. ExchangeSavvy, like other software companies working to help promote cloud based productivity, are looking to make the movement from a more complex and difficult to manage public folder and email server set-up to the cloud seamless for users and enterprises. A public folder migrator can move existing file structures and folders over to shared cloud space safely, so businesses can make the jump easily.

However, despite the benefits and popularity of cloud based office products, uptake of them has not been universal, and many experts believe we are still a long way off the point where there will no longer be a strong market for client server office suites.

What Cloud Based Systems Don’t Yet Offer

So, why isn’t everyone moving to cloud type office solutions like Office 365 and Google’s app suites? The first reason is that these products still offer very limited capabilities when the user is offline. In many offices, this isn’t really a problem, because everyone is working at the office site where a lot of effort has gone into ensuring stable connectivity. However, when a business has a lot of people who work ‘on the road’ and may not have internet access at times when they could be working – for example on flights – reliance on the cloud is less appealing.

Cloud based suites do offer ‘offline modes’ where things can be edited without a connection, but these are still very limited and can cause problems when separate people are editing shared documents and trying to sync them when they gain internet access again. Over time, internet access will probably become possible just about anywhere, and offline modes will improve, however until this is reliably the case, some businesses would still rather use client server products for at least some of their work.

Cloud based systems are also less comprehensive. In many businesses, this doesn’t matter, but for some roles it becomes important. It was a well known fact that most users of client suites like MS Office 2010 never used 90% of the features and capabilities of the products, so cloud based software has been designed to include only the functionality that just about everyone needs. Most people don’t do anything more fancy with their copy of MS Word than write documents using a template, and maybe include the odd diagram or table, however Word has all manner of extremely powerful features for its ‘power users’. Power users of things like Excel, Word and PowerPoint will find a lot of the things they could do with them are not available in Office 365. Google were clear from the start that their suite was not intended to offer these kinds of more niche features at all.

What this has perhaps done is turned full office suites into niche software for certain professionals, leaving the cloud based products as simple solutions for the average user. Whether in future there will be cloud based SaaS systems to take their place depends on whether developers feel there is a strong enough market for this.

Protecting the Existing Product Ranges

In the case of Google, their office apps were an entirely new product designed to take some market share from Microsoft by offering simple, cheap productivity tools for businesses and home users who didn’t need everything MS Office could do, and didn’t want the overheads of things like Exchange servers. Microsoft, on the other hand, gains a lot of its revenue from Office licenses, and therefore wants to differentiate between its cloud offerings and the existing client server product line. Office 365 is designed to appeal to people who may otherwise use Google’s solutions, and it does a good job of this – after all, most people are trained in and comfortable with using things with Microsoft’s look and feel when it comes to basic word processing and spreadsheets. What Office 365 should not do, from Microsoft’s perspective, is take market share from regular Office.

Microsoft have good reason to want to preserve the market for MS Office – with so many features and niche products under the Office banner, it is much more expensive to develop and support than the simple, no frills cloud Office 365 product. There is also no competition from Google for client server, feature rich office suites, with the only major alternative for people who want those kinds of products being open source suites like LibreOffice, which are free, but well behind the times with interface and features.

With things as they are, it is not likely that we’ll be seeing an end to the market for client server office suites in the next few years. It would require a change in strategy from the developers of these tools, as well as virtually universal, stable internet access for many businesses to be able to make the move.