Google confirmed yesterday that it acquired Writely, a pretty cool online word processor that I use on occasion. There is more than enough speculation out there that people think Google is going to try and build an Office suite, and at 37signals they are guessing that Google is
“…building up half an office suite. Google knows that most people donâ€™t need the full Microsoft Office collection. They donâ€™t even need most of it. They donâ€™t even need half of each product. They just need a few things (like creating a quick, simply formatted document and sharing it with someone).”
Allow me to throw in my own two cents. First of all, it’s easy to say that people only use parts of a given application. I can’t think of a single application where I can say “I use every single feature built into application X.” So, the point that’s really being made is that people use a smaller percentage of the features of Office than they do other applications. If you’re going to argue straight Pareto’s Principle, then you’d really ballpark the number of essential features to more like 20% of them.
It’s fairly obvious that the features weren’t built because Microsoft just loves spending thousands of dollars paying programmers to write useless features. I use the “track changes” feature all the time. To me, that’s an essential feature in a business environment. I hardly ever use WordArt, but I’m sure for other people that’s a huge feature. The examples go on and on, and you end up with the typical conclusion that although a person may use a small percentage of your features, different people use different features.
Just as there’s no “waste” line item in the federal budget, there’s no “bloat” feature in an application. It all comes about as your product (or budget) evolves. You can’t cut it because some people will scream.
The assertion that most people need to create a “quick, simply formatted document and shar[e] it with someone” is, I think, demonstrably false. If that’s what people needed, then people would use WordPad (or even just HTML-formatted e-mail). I used to use WordPad quite a bit. RTF is a fine format for a “quick, simply formatted document”. But then you have this document and as you’re working on it you want to throw in a table, and you realize you’ve run into a brick wall. Or, the document gets really long, so you want to add page numbers centered in your footers, and have it auto-generate a table of contents, and you’ve realized that you’ve got a headache on your hands. Throw a picture or diagram in? Out of luck.
Unless you’re doing something very trivial, and you know it’s going to stay trivial, you’re going to need a real word processor. And how many times do you need to do something so trivial that WordPad or even Notepad is not enough, and Microsoft Word is too much? I bet – not that often.
I use Writely. It’s pretty cool. It has more features than WordPad, and less features than Microsoft Word. I can say that it’s a fair replacement for WordPad – an upgrade in fact. But it’s not in the same league as Microsoft Word. Not even close.
Then there’s the fact that it runs in a browser, which introduces a number of benefits as well as deficiencies. It’s great that I can access my writely document on multiple computers. However, it sucks that I don’t have access to it on a plane, or anywhere else I may be offline. One time I was working on a document when Writely quit on me and said “Sorry, we’re going down for maintenance.” Where’s your data then? What can you even do? If I recall, what I did was fire up WordPad.