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Monday, 20 October 2008 08:24

Steve "Footnote" Ballmer in denial over Google Docs

As I write this article using Google Docs, I can't help wondering whether Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer really believed when he publicly told two Gartner analysts last week on stage that nobody uses it. Is Ballmer in denial or privately sweating bullets?

There are not many users who would dispute that Microsoft Office is probably the best and certainly the most widely used office productivity package on the market today. It is also the most massively over-engineered software suite that has no relevance for the average user.

In stark contrast, Google Docs, with a small but fast growing user base, is very basic - Ballmer calls it primitive. Referring to the Google Docs word processor, Ballmer sneeringly shouted to Gartner analysts Neil MacDonald and David Mitchell, "You can't even do a footnote!"

Well Steve, that's not true! Looking at my simple easy to understand Google Docs menu bar, I went to the Insert menu and found a selection item called "Footnote" that allows me to do a footnote. If I'm not mistaken, Google may have even responded to your jibe - and it's interesting to note how quickly they responded!

The thing is though, in my 25 years of using word processors, including all my time as a journalist, I can't remember a single occasion where I have ever needed to do a footnote.

If I was a professional historian or writing an academic paper or thesis, then I would certainly need to use footnotes. Perhaps then I would need to use Microsoft Word or the OpenOffice word processor.

However, most of us are not professional historians. We're just ordinary users who need a word processor that is easy to use and just works.


In fact that is the attraction of Google Docs. It fits the needs of 90% of the population who use a word processor.

The menu is uncluttered and easy to understand. It doesn't give you a lot of choice of fonts - fine I'll go with what I can get. It saves things automatically - I never lose work anymore. And it's very fast.

I can access my documents from any computer in the world that has an Internet connection. If I really need to save a document to work on offline (and I rarely do), I can save it to any basic word processor or more advanced ones, including OpenOffice and Word.

Perhaps the best thing of all about Google Docs, however, is its collaboration capabilities. It is so easy to share documents with other members of the iTWire team - all I need are their email addresses and at the push of a button my document is now everyone's document.

In case anyone thinks I'm just talking about word processing, then let me set you straight. I, as medium-level office productivity user, have successfully replaced all my desktop based office productivity applications with Google Apps.

I no longer use the Outlook email or calendar clients. I use Gmail and Google Calendar, both of which, like Google Docs, are not as feature rich as their Outlook equivalents but for me they're fine. And once again, I'm not tied to any particular computer.

A colleague recently collaborated to put together some presentation slides for iTWire using Google Presentations. Once again, it's more basic than PowerPoint but it was just so easy to collaborate, get the thing together, download it to a PDF file and present it to a prospective client.

There are of course a couple of issues.

Most long time users have a lot of legacy stuff tied up in Microsoft Office files. Fine keep those for when you need them, just do all your new stuff in Google Apps.

Then of course are those pesky emails you get from users who insist on sending Microsoft Office attachments, including those in the Word 2007 .docx format. If you don't want to spend the money on Office 2007, download a copy of OpenOffice 3.0, which now recognises .docx documents.

It's obvious that many businesses which exchange documents with other businesses will still need to use Microsoft Office. However, sooner or later they will come to realise that there is a better, cheaper and more efficient way of doing things. Isn't that what all businesses want?


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Stan Beer


Stan Beer co-founded iTWire in 2005. With 30 plus years of experience working in IT and Australian technology media, Beer has published articles in most of the IT publications that have mattered, including the AFR, The Australian, SMH, The Age, as well as a multitude of trade publications.



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