Google is supposed to be going public soon at some sort of fantastically high valuation. A friend asked “How can they possibly grow into that? What can they do besides search?”
If Google is to reach and sustain a Microsoft-style valuation perhaps the best way for them to do this is by providing alternatives to what Microsoft provides. Microsoft is the kind of desktop applications. You buy software from a store and install it on your machine. If a new version comes out you figure out how to buy and install an upgrade. If you get a new computer you spend several days reinstalling all of your applications, probably buying new copies of the ones whose installation CD-ROMs you can’t find anymore. If you’re traveling and need to edit a document or spreadsheet, tough luck. All of your data is trapped on your home or office computer.
In the Internet enthusiasm of the 1990s various people predicted that desktop applications would be replaced by Web-based applications For most users this has come true in the case of email. If you’re a Hotmail or Google Mail user you can read email from any Internet-connected computer in the world. There are a fair number of Internet-based photo sharing and database services. What is then left on one’s PC? Word processing, spreadsheet, and PowerPoint documents. If Google were to offer a private database service and a suite of reasonably powerful application programs usable from a Web browser, this might be a serious competitor to Microsoft Office.
So that’s my prediction: while Microsoft is trying to replace Google with MSN Search, Google will be trying to replace Microsoft Office with Google Web-based Office.