Maybe Google will be able to rescue something from its Docs misadventure, but it better do something quick. Microsoft says it can solve big customers' big complaint about Google Docs and will do so at a price Google understands: Free.
Here's the gripe: Corporate IT doesn't think Google Docs are a secure place for important information. Microsoft will deal with this by offering something Google doesn't, the ability to host Office Web on the customer's own servers.
And Microsoft will include this capability–for free–as part of all Office 2010 volume-licensing agreements. OK, that isn’t totally free, but for customers who will upgrade to Office 2010 it's a nice value add. It is also something Microsoft could easily package with other deals, such as server operating systems and even Windows 7, as an incentive to upgrade.
What Microsoft is offering will seem close enough to free to entice customers who considered Google Docs and backed away. There will, of course, also be the free version of Office Web on Microsoft's own servers as a try-before-you-buy.
Bottom line: Google Docs are underwhelming and the company needs to move quickly, it's just that simple.
But, it gets worse.
Here's the double-whammy: The mere existence of an online Office suite is enough to send Google Docs to the great beyond. Why have "sort-of compatible" Google Docs when you can have "100 percent" compatible no-brainer online apps from Microsoft?
This is another manifestation of the Microsoft that is starting to play rough with Google, formerly treated as a bit of a handsome rogue by Redmond's masses.
And the attack has multiple fronts. Besides Office Web taking on Google Docs, Bing is slowly finding a niche, maybe even a profitable one, as a Google alternative. And Chrome OS doesn't seem to be off to the rosy start Google might lead us to believe.
While Google is more nimble and carries the cachet of coolness, Microsoft is rolling back into town and looks like, where Google is concerned, it won't be taking prisoners.
Isn't it nice to once more be watching a really competitive industry?