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When Google launched its online spreadsheet earlier this month the world’s media focused on the web giant’s coming tussle with Microsoft.

That’s understandable. There’s no question Google is muscling in Microsoft’s turf with a growing suite of internet-delivered products and services pitched in the same general area as Windows, Office and sundry other software products.

If these two tribes go to war, there will be plenty of losers: you don’t need a journalist to tell you this potentially threatens anyone developing, selling, integrating or otherwise dealing with software.

This isn’t just about Google. Yahoo has vaguely similar online software plans and a whole raft of smaller operations appear to be readying internet-delivered services. Many security software brands now offer online antivirus, antispyware and a variety of other protective odds and ends.

Collectively they pose a major threat to the world’s largest software company. At this stage the threat is only potential: for example, Google’s spreadsheet is still very limited when compared with Excel.

Yet even now, Google’s newcomer is more than enough spreadsheet for most casual users. And its price tag is compelling — it’s difficult to compete with good-quality, free software.

At the moment Google’s recently acquired Writely word processor is even weedier than the spreadsheet. Google’s calendar, on the other hand, is very good. And Gmail’s smart, but minimal user interface and 3GB or so of free storage is a much stronger offering than Microsoft’s limp Hotmail.

Together these programs strike right at the core of Microsoft’s crown jewels: Office and Windows. Many home and small business users may decide they no longer need to fork out for an everything-but-the-kitchen-sink applications suite.

Nor is Windows quite as necessary in this web-enabled world. Or, perhaps more accurately, there are fewer compelling reasons for many users to cough up when it’s time to upgrade to a newer, more powerful version.

Although Microsoft was initially caught napping by the arrival of web-delivered software, the company hasn’t stood still. Its Windows Live may be a generation behind its rivals, but it’s still in Beta — by the time it gets to version 3.1 it may be a formidable competitor. Depending on who you listen to, there could be plans to move everything online.

Ironically, New Zealand’s backwards broadband infrastructure means there’s not much of an imminent threat from any of these newcomers. Test-driving Google spreadsheets gets a bit wearing when your ADSL connection fades in and out on a frequent basis.

When Auckland’s power failed earlier this week, battery-powered notebooks running installed software functioned perfectly, net access wasn’t possible and nobody is going to pay to have gigabytes of data delivered by wireless.

And doing everything online isn’t an attractive proposition in a country where internet traffic is capped.

Nevertheless, Google’s spreadsheet is a wake-up call. Sooner or later we’ll be deluged with web-delivered services. What’s the channel model for that business?


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