Will there ever be a credible alternative to Microsoft Office?

By: John McGarvey

Date: 13 March 2015

The world of business software has changed a lot during the past few years. Traditional ‘pay once, use it forever’ software is increasingly being replaced by cloud services that charge a monthly fee

These online services offer flexibility and allow companies to spread the cost of their software over a longer period. And although there can be concerns around security, they’re proving popular, particularly with smaller companies that struggle to manage traditional software.

Although the cloud has disrupted the software market in areas like accounting, customer relationship management and backups, it has had a limited impact in the area of office software.

Here, one package has reigned supreme for decades.

The enduring appeal of Microsoft Office

Microsoft Office - which includes Word, Excel, PowerPoint and other common packages - is still the only office suite that most businesses consider using.

Sure, it offers far more features than most of us need and has undergone some controversial changes over the years. But it’s hard to imagine the world of business without Microsoft Office: the de facto standard for getting the job done.

Indeed, Microsoft now sells Office on a subscription basis and offers a cloud version so you can work on your documents from any computer.

A serious challenge to Microsoft Office?

Although free office suites like OpenOffice and LibreOffice might be capable, they’ve failed to set the world on fire. But could Google be about to mount a serious challenge to Microsoft’s dominance?

Around ten years ago it launched Google Docs. This cloud software offered basic tools for working with spreadsheets, writing documents and so on. It wasn’t a serious rival to Office, but it signalled Google’s desire to enter this market.

A decade on and things look somewhat different. Constant development has resulted in a set of powerful services that offer most of the features required by the average office worker.

What’s more, because these services all work online, Google has been collecting data on how people actually use them. It says this has helped it focus on developing features people actually want.

The package is now called Google Apps for Work. It includes a wide range of business tools and some pundits think it’s mature enough to pose a credible challenge to Microsoft Office.

To encourage companies to try these services, Google claims they can work seamlessly with Microsoft Office documents. What’s more, the company doesn't expect businesses to switch overnight.

Instead, it thinks companies should use the two systems in parallel, then gradually phase out Office for employees who don’t use its vast range of features.

Interesting times ahead

So, should you be thinking about switching to Google Apps for Work?

Well, perhaps not immediately. But next time you’re due to update your company computers or plan to make a significant investment in business technology, it might merit serious consideration.

Finally, Office is important to Microsoft. It accounts for around a quarter of the company's enormous revenues.

Any threat to Office is a threat to Microsoft itself, so there’s no way the software giant is going to stand by and watch a serious competitor move into this market.

And that means that the next couple of years are going to be interesting for the office tools we use every day. We have more choice than we’ve had for a long time - and maybe this increased competition will spark innovation in how these tools help us get things done.

What does the * mean?

If a link has a * this means it is an affiliate link. To find out more, see our FAQs.