Google (GOOG) - Get Alphabet Inc. Class C Report may be beefing up its already considerable suite of free online applications in a move that might ultimately target Microsoft (MSFT) - Get Microsoft Corporation (MSFT) Report.
The search giant already offers a hosted word processor and spreadsheet that resemble Microsoft's hallmark Word and Excel programs. But Google now seems to be developing a presentation program that would provide a function similar to Microsoft's PowerPoint, according to the popular tech blog TechCrunch.
Reports of the PowerPoint clone first began to spread after bloggers found a reference to the product in Google programming code, which has since been cleaned up.
Although Google's fledgling suite of word processing and number-crunching applications isn't yet a big moneymaker, it has the potential to change the competitive landscape for Google and its rivals down the road.
That's because Google's suite of products has many of the makings of a "disruptive technology," a term originally made famous by Harvard Business School professor Clay Christensen, who used it to describe the initially crude types of technology that often unexpectedly end up sweeping a market.
Google's suite of applications offers a simpler, more limited set of features than Microsoft's market-leading products. But the functionality that Google's applications offer covers the most-frequently used types of operations -- and ones that are sufficient for a good chunk of users. Moreover, they also have certain advantages over Microsoft's products.
Both Google's word processing and spreadsheet program are hosted online, meaning that groups of people can easily collaborate on projects without having to continuously send out the latest version of a file. Google's spreadsheet program also lets cells automatically grab updated data from the Internet, ranging from a company's stock price to the population of New York, based on what a user indicates.
And of course, Google gives away these tools for free. Microsoft, meanwhile, has to keep packing its products with new bells and whistles in order to justify the cost of new upgrades. While some of these features may be valuable to the most discriminating, they tend to overshoot what a growing number of users are looking for.
Over time, simpler, cheaper technology tends to displace its bulkier, expensive counterpart. That is what happened when personal computers overtook mainframes and, more recently, when the comparatively less powerful servers by companies such as
became popular at the expense of the high-end machines offered by the likes of
In a recent interview with
, Joe Kraus, who heads up Google's community and collaboration initiatives, delved into the company's thinking behind the moves. Google sees the biggest gains in productivity coming from allowing groups to work together more effectively rather than from enabling individuals to become even more productive.
To that end, the company designs its applications with collaboration as the guiding post instead of as a "bolt-on" that is affixed as an afterthought. Kraus compared the superiority of that approach as similar to the superiority of
, a company that offers software as a service over the Internet, over
Siebel Systems unit, an incumbent in the field that has been struggling to catch up with its own tweaked service offering.
And while Google's free service may seem like an act of charity, the move is a shrewdly calculated one to deflate the value of Microsoft's biggest properties. It also comes at a time when Microsoft is aggressively ramping up its bid to cut into Google's bread-and-butter advertising revenue.
While the Redmond, Wash., giant has long plotted to march onto Google's turf, it should now expect a push on its own home front as well.