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January 24, 2012

Getting “The Word” Out of Commoditization

By Larry Walsh

The days of standardizing on Microsoft’s Word Docs – or at least the word processor known as “Word” – may be numbered. After nearly two decades of living in a Word world, the staid word processor application market appears to be breaking open – and IBM may be leading the charge.

As reported recently by PC Magazine’s John Dvorak , IBM is jumping into the cloud-based word processing market with IBM Docs, a rebranded and revamped version of the old Lotus office suite. Dvorak’s article does a great job of breaking down the competitive landscape – Google Docs vs. Microsoft Word and Office 365, and how IBM is looking to take share from both competitors with features and functionality that enterprises will appreciate.

More interesting, though, is the connection Dvorak makes between IBM’s ability to penetrate the enterprise with technologies and drag in complementary solutions in ways that Google and, perhaps, even Microsoft can’t do. In other words, IBM can use its legacy relationships and legacy technology to drive the adoption of new cloud-based solutions, such as IBM Docs.

Ah, there may be something more afoot here, though. IBM also recently rebranded much of its Lotus-based enterprise social communication and collaboration under the SmartCloud moniker. It’s intended to create one identity for Big Blue’s software-as-a-service (SaaS) portfolio. However, it doesn’t take much to see the connections between IBM’s cloud-based socialized enterprise and the addition of a Web-based word processor to create a holistic information and communications platform.

In other words, IBM Docs could be the entrée to the fully socialized office suite, in which users are able to create information and collaborate through the same interface.

Now, we don’t have any inside information about such plans at IBM. As far as we know, they don’t exist. But IBM’s move to become a player in word processing after more than a decade’s absence from market is telling.

As Dvorak points out, Google has thrived with its Apps and Docs suite by providing free applications that provide just enough functionality to win the hearts and minds of cost-conscious businesses and users who tire of the Microsoft license pricing structure. The same logic of incorporating collaboration and socialization exists, too, at Big G.

Many of Google’s attempts at collaboration, most notably Google Wave, failed for various reasons. Google continues to push its Google Apps suite, particularly to state and federal government agencies, as well as municipalities. Through Google Apps, business subscribers have access to word processing, spreadsheets, instant messaging and voice soft phones.

On the side, Google is pushing its social platform – Google+ — which has many of the same features as Twitter and Facebook, but includes some of the video chat features of a Skype. If connected to Google Apps for Business, Google too could offer an attractive Web-based content creation and social collaboration suite.

Dvorak seems to think word processes are emerging from under the dominance of Microsoft. Perhaps, but what we really could be witnessing is the evolution of word processors and office productivity suites into something entirely new for the cloud era.

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