A BMW is a better car than a Honda. (You don't need a BMW.)

Sometimes "good enough" is good enough. I participated in a panel discussion about SaaS, DaaS, and the future of Windows desktop applications a few months ago.

Sometimes "good enough" is good enough.

I participated in a panel discussion about SaaS, DaaS, and the future of Windows desktop applications a few months ago. One of the audience members asked a question about Google Apps. The ensuing conversation was about how Google Apps has limited features when compared to Microsoft Office, and that in turn led to one of the panelists to say, "well that's proof that web apps will never be as good as desktop apps."

The conversation quickly broke into two sides, each making points like, "of course Microsoft Office is better—they've had a 20 year head start." Or, "of course Google Apps is better—they don't have all the useless bloat of Office!"

Finally the moderator stepped in and said, "well I can tell you one thing for sure—my users prefer Office over Google Apps."

I would agree that, all things being equal, most people prefer the "real" versions of Office over the "web" versions of Google Apps, especially when their employer is picking up the tab. But this isn't unique to office apps or even to IT. If the company were picking up the tab for a user's car, most people would prefer a BMW 5 Series over a Honda Civic too!

Sure, Microsoft Office has been around for 20 years. It's a premium product (both in terms of cost and features), and people have gotten used to the luxury premium lifestyle. Now that there's an economy option with Google Apps (fewer features, lower cost, easier to manage), it's no surprise that IT wants to go that way, and it's no surprise that users are resisting. But let's be absolutely clear on this—users aren't resisting the concept of a web app over the concept of a desktop app—they're resisting giving up luxury for bare bones.

Going back to the car analogy, imagine if the only company car that existed for the past 20 years was a $70,000 BMW 5 Series. Users would have had two decades to get used to SPORT+ adaptive drive engine-throttle response with servotronic steering assist while being cradled in 14-way power-adjustable seats with 4-way lumbar support featuring SensaTrac upholstery.

Then Honda comes along with the $20,000 Civic. It has four seats and a steering wheel.

Companies would take note of this and say, “Hey, do we really need to give our users the ultimate driving machine with an award-winning high-precision direct injection valvetronic double-VANOS engine, or do they just need a car to get from Point A to Point B?"

It wouldn't take long for companies to start buying their users Hondas.

And of course the users would complain about the lesser car, not because they needed a 3.0 liter TwinPower Turbo inline 6-cyclinder, 24-value 300-hp engine capable of propelling them from a standstill to 60mph in 5.7 seconds, but because they were used to it.

This is exactly what we're seeing in the user & application space today as we look to replace expense (yet luxurious) desktop apps with lower-featured yet more economical SaaS and web apps.

Microsoft Office is expensive. It has always been a premium product with a premium price, and Microsoft had to get people to buy new versions every three years by continuing to add more features. (With perpetually-licensed packaged products, you can't sell a new version that doesn't have any new features.) That was all well and good, but after 20 years of incremental features we ended up with the software version of 14-way adjustable dual-zone heated leather seats.

Now that we're seeing software move to term-based licensing instead of perpetual, we can take a step back. Instead of, "will you give me another $300 for these 35 new features?", the conversation is, "I hope you liked using our software over the past year. For another $100, do you want to use it for another year?" In that SaaS world, vendors don't need to get cramming new features into the product—they just need to keep everything running.

This transition is a good point for companies to take a step back and look at what they're buying and what their users are actually using. I used Google Apps and Microsoft Office as examples, but this is happening for all types of software. Nowadays there are of cheaper, SaaS-based options for most desktop apps out there. They have fewer features, but as long as they cover the basics that users actually need, that's all that matters. Sure, users might not like it, but that doesn't mean that SaaS and web-based apps aren't as good as desktop apps. It just means that the days of forced luxury are over and we finally have a choice to buy what's most appropriate for our users. Sometimes that will be desktop apps. Many times it won't.

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Brian I would prefer happy users than pissed off users. Sometimes a premium cost is worth it to keep users happy. It is also difficult to get users off the drug called Microsoft Office considering most users know nothing else.


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I also agree that we need to keep the users happy. After all they all play a part in generating revenue for the company. If something in Google Apps is just good enough, but better and more efficient with MS Office apps then I know what their argument would be with a good business case to back it up.


However much I like your BMW to Honda analogy, i don't believe it's a true reflection:


Hey, we invested heavily in roof racks, for our BMWs, to carry additional luggage and skis, etc.... We also invested heavily in bike carriers. Now you want to replace our BMW with Honda's? Ok, oh wait, the racks are not compatible with the Honda. We have to buy different racks - that's even if they make them for Honda since BMW were the only car manufacturer for the past 20 years.


Therein lies the problem. The reliance of other critical apps that integrate with Office and the question of compatibility of those said critical apps with Google Apps.


We can't even move to Office 64-bit just because the other vendors addins are only developed/available for 32bit Office.


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@Brian,


Good analogy, but like all analogies it's not wholly accurate. Specifically, a Honda Civic is a lesser car than a BMW 5 Series in every respect, except price. Not so with web apps compared to desktop apps. Yes, desktop apps usually pack more punch than web apps, but web apps can also do things desktop apps often cannot.


Here are some advantages that web apps have over legacy desktop apps:


1. They often have better collaboration capabilities


2. They generally have better Cloud integration (though often with a specific Cloud)


3. They have better anytime, anywhere, any device capabilities. Yes, you can achieve this with remoting for desktop apps, but then user experience is often lesser than web apps


4. The advance at a faster rate, I you don't need to invest time and effort in managing them


5. SaaS often has higher uptime than legacy client server


6. Maybe Office 2016 will fix it, but for me Office on Mac sucks. Not so with Google Apps


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Companies are moving to SaaS apps as it stops piracy.  Steve Balmer said in an interview years ago Exchange will go 100% cloud in a few years as it can't be pirated, currently on every street cornet in China someone is selling Exchange.  Feature parity is there already, just look at O365 and M$ loves billing you every month for it's use.  


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I don't quite agree with the car analogy.  Most folks in America have no idea that the majority of European companies of any meaningful size cover the cost of cars for their employees today.  Just saying.


Many years ago I learned the Microsoft Office lesson.  I worked for a very conservative manufacturing organization, looking to save a penny anywhere and everywhere.  Me being the smart IT guy offered up the idea to replace Microsoft Office with Sun Open Office.  Hey, it does the same thing right?!


Well, what it comes down to is user skill set, which is why I don't necessarily agree with your car analogy.  The accounting department 10 years ago know how to use Microsoft Excel, and not the Open Office equivalent.  


The next question, where did these folks take on this loyalty to Microsoft?  It happened in the public schools.  There were no Internet apps back then and Microsoft flooded the school systems with free access to Microsoft Office.  The net effect is that kids went through K-12 using office, then moved onto college continuing to use Microsoft Office.


Now, 10+ years later, median incomes of working families are decreasing in the U.S.  Parents sending their kids to schools across the country are spending what money they have to empower their children to gain what advantage they can, and the low cost alternative is Google Apps.  


That said, the sea change you reference in your post will not happen as result of cost.  It will happen as result of a pendulum swing in user skill sets and resultant impact on productivity to the business.  Another way to put it, when will it really cost more to offer Microsoft Office to end users as opposed to Google Apps.


On a separate note, as I understand it a number of game changing organizations in the IT industry have used Google Apps from inception.  Another item to keep your eye on is user identity management.  The world is moving away from Microsoft AD as the lone identity provider in the enterprise.  So, when does Office and AD really become the more expensive option for the enterprise?  


It is moving fast today, really fast.  The world of application service delivery will be substantially different 24 months from now.  This MS Office item is a single touch point.  Not so much to do with $$ though on this one.  My $.035.


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I've always heard.... "Users only use 10% of the functions offered by MS Office"


That is indeed true, but User A's 10% is different to User B and it's different to User C.....So what percentage of MS Office functionality is used by an organisation? What functions make up that percentage **enters expensive Business Analysts and Project Managers who erode any savings anticipated**


Careful making comparisons on price alone.


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