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Google and Capgemini Take on Office

On the west side of Paris (France, not Paris, Texas), contained within a sort of bubble in the city limits, sits La Défense, a skyscraper complex that would have all the earmarks of a city of the future...if we were still living in 1985. Conceived in the 1950s as a place outside of Paris's more enchanting "quartiers" to stick vulgar commerce and keep the less charming, more corporate flow of Francs (now Euros) away from the city's cafés and museums, La Défense is glass and steel, brick and concrete, business suits and dress shoes. It's more Manhattan than Paris, except without any of the things that makes Manhattan (New York City, not Manhattan, Kan.) one of the most exciting places in the world.

If you remember the silly cartoons from the 1960s about what the "city of the future" would look like, you have some idea of what it's like to stand in the middle of La Défense. It tries way too hard to be futuristic and cutting-edge; it sort of comes off as ridiculously overbuilt and under-greened. It's almost a parody of itself...and yet, it's useful. IBM has a major presence there, as does Paris-based global consulting juggernaut Capgemini, the latter of which is the subject of this entry.

Capgemini and Google announced this week that the consulting firm will start recommending Google's productivity suite -- a competitor to Microsoft Office -- to its clients. This seems to be the first legitimate competitive blow in a while (maybe ever) to Office, which enjoys 90-plus percent market share. After all, Capgemini is a serious firm with a serious reputation; its recommendation of Google's wares will carry serious weight in corporate IT departments.

Looking forward, it wouldn't be totally ridiculous to predict that Google's productivity suite -- with its slim, efficient format and featherweight price tag -- could be the go-to software of the future for office workers, especially now that Capgemini is giving it a massive credibility boost. Office has the major advantages of a near-universal installed base and familiarity with users (which is never a small factor in IT buying decisions), but it's also bloated (who actually uses anywhere close to all the features in the suite?) and expensive compared to what Google and Capgemini are now peddling together.

In fact, Office is under fire on several fronts; the Capgemini announcement combined with threats from open document format (ODF) suites like OpenOffice and StarOffice, mean that Office is in a more precarious position than it's ever been in a decade or more.

Here, though, we come back to La Défense. The prototypical central business district of the future, it was built to suck all of the corporate life out of Paris -- but it didn't. Microsoft's European headquarters are in a much more charming area of the city, and SAP has stuck with a more quaint Paris-proper location, as well. Dassault Systémes, France's biggest software company, and Business Objects, France's other biggest software company (depending on whom you ask) are both headquartered in somewhat leafier suburbs of Paris, not in the urban jungle of La Défense.

What we're saying here, with lots of indulgent references to the city where your editor used to live, is that not everything that looks like the future ends up being the future. Google's productivity suite, with Capgemini's endorsement, could very well take a chunk out of Office's market share, but we don't anticipate hordes of users abandoning Office en masse. If anything, most will probably choose to remain in Office's old neighborhood, warts and all, rather than flee to Google's city of the future.

What we do anticipate, though, is that finally (potentially) having a serious competitor will spur Microsoft to think about releasing lighter, cheaper versions of Office, along with perhaps a true hosted version -- given that "Office Live" isn't actually a live version of Office. Partners, then, should follow Google's progress closely and stay on top of the repercussions that are bound to come out of Redmond -- because even if they stay in Microsoft's gentrified old neighborhood, they'll surely have to adapt to the lure of the gleaming new development across town.

What's your take on Capgemini's backing of Google's productivity suite? Let me know at lpender@rcpmag.com.

Posted by Lee Pender on 09/11/2007 at 1:21 PM


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