If I were Microsoft, I would be afraid of Google. Very, very afraid. Just as Netscape was unable to compete with free products, I don’t think that expensive Microsoft can go head-to-head over the long-term with Google’s “free” services. Microsoft won’t go bankrupt, but I do think Google will significantly eat into their margins.
Outlook is very, very vulnerable. In all of the interviewing I did about email habits, I never found anybody who was passionate about it, nobody who said, “I used to use Brand X, and Outlook is soooooooooooooooo much better!” People used Outlook because that’s what their company told them to use, and companies used Outlook because it’s calendaring system, while not something people were enthusiastic about, was better than anything else from the Information Technology Department’s standpoint.
However, even the IT department didn’t much like Outlook. Exchange (the server component) was a royal pain to maintain, and it was a nightmare to back up. Outlook stores all its information in one big .pst file. Thus if today you get one piece of email, you have to back up not just today’s mail, but all of your saved email messages, all your filters, all your Views, all your Options. This means that the IT department has to put disk quotas on their users’ email — even though the cost of disk space is in the vicinity of US$1 per gig. This places quite a high productivity hit on their users, since they must periodically go through their email and triage their messages.
Gmail is really nice. It doesn’t have every feature in the book and its address book is pretty pitiful, but they got two of the most basic things really right: the users don’t have to periodically delete their messages, and they are absolved from having to decide which folder to file the message in. One big fat button that says Archive, and boom, that message is out of their face.
If Google does shared calendaring, Outlook is suddenly very vulnerable. The Google calendar needs to have enough access control to allow/disallow particular Google users to add/modify/delete events, have repeating events, and to send reminders when things are due. It doesn’t need to do anything fancy like delegation, it just needs to work. (If they do want to make it better than Outlook, there are quite a few things they could do to make it better. OSAF has an exhaustive list of calendar features, but I’d be delighted just if I could have a “home” timezone on the left and an “away” timezone on the right.)
Before you argue that companies won’t like giving all their private data to Google, let me point out that Google already sells a Web search appliance. It shouldn’t be hard for them to provide Gmail- and Gcalendar-in-a-box, perhaps even in the same box as their search appliance. If they provide intelligent backup utilities — which they probably already have, since Google has to back up Gmail already — then Google could eat Outlook/Exchange for lunch and have leftovers for dinner.
Furthermore, I have no reason to believe that Google wouldn’t do a better job at calendaring than Outlook. They have a lot of very bright people, they understand user interfaces, and they are unencumbered by a krufty old code base. They can use the latest in research, and they can search the Web for good ideas on what to do with calendars. Because they are a web service, they can do a rapid rollout, rapid bug fixes, rapid upgrades, and get rapid user feedback. Microsoft, meanwhile, is shackled by the weight of an installed base and by conventional software delivery/sales.
I’ll put my money on Google.