by Rob Koplowitz.

I have a confession to make. I really can’t tell the difference between Office 2000, Office XP and Office 2003. I have had all three installed on various computers in my home and they all look the same to me.

Now, I can tell the difference between all of the above and Office 2007. When I joined Forrester I left my Office 2007 beta behind and was presented with a brand spanking new laptop with Office 2003 pre-installed. To quote Kevin Kline in A Fish Called Wanda, “DISAPPOINTED”. Luckily, Microsoft came to the rescue and shipped me out a copy of Office 2007.

Against this backdrop I find myself on a call with Google who is briefing me on their upcoming move into the world of business productivity applications. That evening I sat down with my focus group of one, my son Jake who is a sixth grader with writing goals surprising similar to my own. I pulled up Google Docs and Word 2007 and asked Jake to make a comparison. After a few minutes he gave me his expert analysis. “They’re the same.” I was incredulous. I alt-tabbed between the lush, multi-hued garden of Office and the spiny houseplant of Google and asked how they could be the same? Jake patiently pointed out, feature by feature, that Google had everything he needed. All of the advanced features of Word were invisible to him.

Should I listen to a sixth grader when evaluating business productivity software? Yes, absolutely. The fact is that for many users Google will be just fine, although certainly not for me. I need my Office 2007. The bigger question that Google needs to address is how well they are able to live in the broader world of enterprise computing. Microsoft is investing in Office’s ability to integrate with existing applications and processes. Search and Google Earth are already going there, but this time they are taking on the most unassailable franchise in enterprise computing. Can Google succeed where some pretty big, bad competitors have been humbled? I don’t know, but I bet that whatever happens, Jake and I will both have better software as a result.