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The Google Docs Divide

Q: Who doesn't know about Google docs
A: 73% of Americans.

Q: Who doesn't use Google docs?
A: 94% of American computer users.

Q: How come?

In a word? Platform. Google Docs (still in beta, still free and still without commercial interruption) is a leap forward into online office applications and requires a paradigm shift for desktop-comfy workers. Working online is new and uncharted territory where few business users have gone before.

Owning a corps of loyal followers can codify a new product or dissuade newer ones from taking your market share. With perhaps one of the most recognized names among all levels of online users, how does Google fail to own the market already for its online docs with American users when more expensive suites like Microsoft Office are ubiquitous among US small businesses?

Comfort Software
The main reason we do not encourage small businesses to move to Vista is that their staff has become savvy on Windows XP. They're familiar with it and can do the required tasks that make them efficient. Microsoft Office software is similar – it's comfortable. We know how to open a new file, format information, save it, and for the most part, find it again. Google Docs is another ball game: we don't know how to create a new file (yet), how to save it (yet), how to find it again (yet) and what this sharing thing is all about (yet). And many people don't know what .rtf means, which is why we're equally reluctant to encourage a shift to .docx.

Pre-installed OEM Software
Office suites are often sold as OEM with new computers and busy small business owners often want a complete machine; that is, with everything pre-installed, licensed and working. Open the box, plug it in and get to work is a good solution to save time and money. [There is one good reason not to buy perhaps less-expensive OEM software. The license often forbids OEM software from being installed on other computers. It is "owned" by particular machine it was purchased for, even if the machine dies. We recommend that buyers consider purchasing software separate from the machine so it can be installed on new/other computers after the current machine gets dropped in the airport. Try to understand OEM licensing here.

Desktop Icons
Google Docs Shortcut iconVisiting clients (or logging in remotely) shows us desktops full of icons that are another soothing feature for our clients. Although many icons are those deplorable things that install with new software and (gasp!) games (and should be deleted), there is a familiarity with double clicking any of them. People are married to their desktops and get agitated if you rearrange or remove their icons. Google Docs doesn't give us desktop icons; in fact, the fact that documents don't live on our personal machines is a foreign concept. Easy solution: create a shortcut icon for Google Docs and stick it onto your desktop; however, Google should deliver a much cooler desktop icon more easily. The challenge? Most regular users don't know how to make an Internet shortcut. Really.

Where Did My Documents Go?
My Documents IconWhen our clients finally learn that everything should be saved in My Documents (because it's really a network drive and that's what gets backed up), we go out for afternoon libation as a reward to our harping and reminding. If we suggest that users can save files outside of that precious folder, the resulting confusion, along with new learning required, often spells doom for a great new idea. We have to face that younger users are more likely to subscribe to online tools than will older (more "mature") users will change their hard-learned ways. Opening a browser instead of Word is simply a whole new way of doing business for experienced Office users and it's not an easy hurdle to cross.

Collaboration or Chaos?

Ownership. Control. Don't mess with my PowerPoint. Asking long-time users to share documents and allow others to edit their work is also a new model for many. In small businesses where one person is often the designated PowerPointer, allowing someone else to change text or (horrors!) a graph or chart will result in a potential worker's comp condition. Google Docs is built on the premise that other people will collaborate with you to produce a shared final copy – or that no final copy will ever exist because it's constantly subject to revision. Sharing is a new paradigm that has yet to gain anything close to universal acceptance and it sends shivers down the spines of many an admin assistant. No wonder Microsoft didn't go there first: they understand their users' control issues and frankly may have a better understanding of how small business networks function. SBS 2003 is still one of their best solutions for small business because it provides OWA (the single most asked-for feature) and the critical backup issue, is solved rather easily.

Microsoft's Office Live Workspace – with a Small Business gateway and marketing focus – was designed as ancillary to Office desktop software. There's even a comfort video.

Bottom Line
Google Docs is more of an alternative to desktop Office products that hasn't caught on yet among the business software-devouring community. It requires a leap of faith into online work and storage that previews the future with a so-far shaky footbridge across the divide. They should produce a few friendly videos that market cost-savings and ease of use as well as explain why this "sharing" thing is good for Office-addicted users. And oh yeah, get us a cool desktop icon to get us there.

Tags: google docs, microsoft office, working online, document sharing,, GoogleDocs,MicrosoftOffice,WorkingOnline,DocumentSharing,SmallBu