Microsoft Office may be getting a serious challenge from Google Docs, according to a survey.
The study, carried out by IDC, found that about 1-in-5 companies reported that Google Docs is "widely used" in their workplace, however possibly as a complement to Microsoft Office.
IDC surveyed 262 people, a significant number of whom are senior managers at various sized businesses, which points to rapidly increasing interest in Google's cloud-based office application .
A similar survey by IDC in December 2007 found that 5 percent of those surveyed reported that Google Docs was "widely used" at their workplace. IDC's most recent survey, done in July, found wide use of Google Docs in 19.5 percent of the companies surveyed.
"Google Docs is not yet supplanting Microsoft, but the fact that Google Docs is being picked up so quickly shows tremendous momentum, and that's a huge threat to Microsoft," said Melissa Webster, the IDC analyst who conducted the survey.
Despite Google Docs' growth, Microsoft Office's use in the workplace was essentially unchanged in this survey, with more than 97 percent reporting that Office remains widely used, indicating that workers are using both tools. But Webster said Google Docs may cannibalize Microsoft's opportunity around its own web-based tools, said Webster.
The IDC survey didn't seek data on how many users had contracted with paid Google Apps services. It's possible the survey figures include ad hoc adoption - decisions by employees to use Google Docs for collaboration, something that the IT department may be aware of but isn't officialy using.
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But Webster believes use of Google Docs in the workplace, for whatever the reason, may increase the negotiating clout of Microsoft's customers. "Just the threat of a company going to Google Docs could potentially provide the leverage that a buyer might want on negotiating an upgrade to Microsoft Office," she said.
This data from IDC comes at the same time that the US government and Google are boring ahead with plans to encourage interest in cloud-based services.
The US CIO, Vivek Kundra, this week launched Apps.gov, a cloud-based combination app store and services similar to Amazon's Elastic Compute Cloud (EC2).
And Google this week announced its own plans to set up Web based Google Apps for the government, and build data centres and networks that meet government security regulations - similar to the kinds of certifications that government contractors running data centres are required to get.
Microsoft has its own plans for the government. Microsoft now offers Exchange and SharePoint via the cloud, and Office Communication server, which provides services such as instant messaging, and Live Meeting. Early next year, Microsoft aims to release Office 2010, which will include a cloud version .
Microsoft will give its customers multiple options, along with the ability of accessing Office apps through the cloud from Microsoft data centers. This capability will also be in a box that customers can install in a data center, said Susie Adams, CTO for Microsoft Federal.
Of the responses to the IDC survey, 80 percent were based in the US Of that number, 64 percent came from IT and the remaining from the business side. Of the respondents, 26 percent were C-level employees, and 23 percent vice president and director, with the remainder not specified.
The sizes of the companies ranged. At one end, 35 percent of those responding were from companies with fewer than 100 employees, and at the other, 31 percent of the respondents were from companies with more than 5,000 employees. The balance worked at companies between the two in size.
The survey didn't set specific criteria for deciding whether Google Docs was "widely used" but left it up to the respondent to determine what that meant.