Web apps eroding MS Word franchise: study

Internet-based alternatives are gaining ground, analyst firm says

Companies may use Microsoft Word for word processing out of habit rather than necessity and are beginning to consider other alternatives, as the web has changed the way people create and share documents, according to a Forrester Research report.

The report, Breaking Up Is Hard To Do: The Microsoft Word Love Story, by analyst Sheri McLeish, suggests that businesses may still be using Word because it is familiar to users or because they have a legacy investment in the application, not because it is the best option.

"Because Word has become so entrenched in the enterprise in the past 25 years, organisations cannot easily move off of it," she wrote. "So despite the noise made by the new web-based authoring tools most of which are free for a limited number of users they have failed thus far to realise enterprise adoption."

But these other options now in the market, including web-hosted applications from Google, Adobe Systems and Zoho, to name a few, make sharing documents and online collaboration more intuitive and easier for users, and are more cost-effective, she wrote.

They are gaining traction among small to medium-sized businesses, where Microsoft does not compete as effectively with the Office suite, McLeish says in an interview about the report.

"Microsoft Office has been a cash cow for them for years," she says. "But what people are finding is they are questioning that investment. It is relatively high next to some other options on the market."

Perhaps responding to this pressure, Microsoft recently announced the expansion of the features on its Office Live Workspace online document-sharing and storage application. The software allows people to create and edit documents online. Previously, people had to use the desktop version of Office to create documents that could then be posted and annotated through Office Live Workspace.

Microsoft's move points to another reason Google Docs, Adobe Acrobat.com and Zoho Writer applications are gaining traction with some businesses. The web's evolution as a platform on which companies can run their businesses has changed the game for how people create, store and share word-processing documents, with collaborative, web-based word-processing applications facilitating these new methods, McLeish noted in her report.

"Teams of information workers often use wikis in the place of early draft documents that might have formerly been circulated to a group via e-mail or posted on a shared site," she says. "Blogs bypass a document view entirely. Enterprise Web 2.0 may have just arrived but can deliver high value, particularly by being able to enhance content by associating it with peers and experts."

While enterprises still have security and integration concerns that keep them from diving into adopting the software-as-a-service model for documents head first, this trend is also another incentive for Microsoft to evolve Word and other Office applications to stay competitive, according to McLeish.

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