MS Office Wired, OpenOffice Tired, Google Docs Expired?

google-newsFact: “Google Docs Struggles to Gain Foothold.” “Google Docs Use: Just a Blip.” “Study: Office Fights Off Google Docs Threat.” “OpenOffice Five Times More Popular than Google Docs.”  These are news articles covering the release of a new ClickStream study of typical use of “productivity software” like the Microsoft Office suite (Word, Excel), Google Docs, Google Spreadsheets, OpenOffice, etc. The study “among adult U.S. internet users showed that use of free productivity applications such as Google Docs and OpenOffice remains low, while Microsoft Office is in use by over 50% of adult U.S. internet users and shows no signs of declining popularity.”

Analysis: Well, yesterday I gave Google some nice words because of our joint work with DoD on improving military health IT. So I’m itching to tweak the Big G now, and we have some numbers to examine.  And I wasn’t cherry-picking the titles above either, they were the “most relevant” results on a Google News query this morning for <“Google Docs” OpenOffice Microsoft>.

But there’s more to the story, if you read closely. Let’s start with the basic findings. The ClickStream summary of the study says:

Of all free productivity applications observed, OpenOffice (a client application) was the most popular, in use by 5% of all users. OpenOffice also had the heaviest and highest frequency of use among free apps, with an average of 548 clicks performed and 8.7 days of use per user.

Google Docs (a web-based application) was the 2nd most popular free productivity app, used by 1% of users. Google docs also had the lightest use of all productivity apps, with an average of 40 actions performed in the app (compare with 548 in OpenOffice and 1,797 in Microsoft Word), and the fewest average days used during the 6-month period [emphasis added]. Although 1% of users had Gears installed on their machine, there was no evidence of its use in conjunction with Google Docs, nor did any user click on “Offline” or “Get Google Gears now” in their Docs account.
Okay, good news for Microsoft, public perception of a Google tide is mistaken, people actually prefer to use more powerful, well-designed software, etc. etc.  Fair enough.
But let’s look behind those numbers, as surely some journalist will do. Just as the attentive audience for polling statistics during the presidential campaign became accustomed to checking sample internals and margin of error, let’s look at the ClickStream fine print about its study:


From May to November 2008, ClickStream Technologies recruited 2,400 U.S. internet users over the age of 18 to complete a survey and install ClickSight®, a patent-pending data collection tool which records click-level user behavior data across all browsers and applications. In addition, ClickSight® reports on dozens of data points relating to the users computer configuration. Over 6 months of click data (more than 350 million user actions) was collected by ClickSight® and segmented by each users self-reported survey responses that were collected at the time of recruitment, which included basic demographic information.

Additional Notes

– Margin of error +/- 2.02%

– Participants were recruited through a market research firm which awards cash and prizes in exchange for completing online surveys.

– Sample is self-reported (in initial recruitment survey) as 65.5% female, 34.5% male; 48.4% married; 76.4% Caucasian, 5.5% African American, 1.58% Asian, 1.73% Hispanic.


These numbers are not exactly a mirror of the actual population of “U.S. adult internet users,” are they?  According to the Pew Internet and American Life Project, a solid source of stats, the split among the 73 percent of all adult Americans who are internet users is actually 50-50 men to women.  So there may be some skewing to the ClickStream 2-to-1 ratio favoring women. One might hypothesize that hunter/gatherer male surfers are more willing to be adventurous with their adoption of open-source? 🙂

But that doesn’t mean you can throw out the results in toto.  One of my four sisters is a participant in market surveys “which award cash and prizes in exchange for completing online surveys,” though not for ClickStream, and she’s a brilliant working mother who actually does reflect typical American internet use I would wager.  More centrally, the stark flatness of the Google numbers in adoption and particularly in regular usage once adopted appear to counter any quibbling over the demographics of the study.

Steve Ballmer may just be right – Microsoft produces a much better product, and people decide with their clicks. It’s early days for Google’s apps, of course, but Microsoft isn’t exactly standing still – we just released this week an astounding new Windows Live suite with improved online apps and new social-networking features that are getting positive reviews.

In short, I’d say that this study’s findings are indicative but not a complete picture of software use. For that we’ll need more traditional market-based data, which of course is coming in over time. I will say that internally at Microsoft, even though I’m not on the sales side, I notice anecdotally quite an uptick in “win-backs,” where commercial or government organizations abandon an effort to provide only “free” or open-source software, and they come back to the Microsoft Office apps they know and love.

Back home to Big Momma. (That sounds better than Big Brother, doesn’t it?)


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2 Responses

  1. I think Google Docs will see a big increase in numbers now that the popularity of Google Apps is really starting to pick up.

    Microsoft has always been the leader for business based software with there Office suite however with more and more businesses looking for better ways to collaberate I think Google Docs & Google Apps will begin to take more of a hold in the market.

    I think this study was done still a little too early. However it does prove some good points and does show some good data.


  2. Interesting…

    I regularly use OpenOffice and GoogleDocs. The version of Office I have installed on the old computer I am currently using is 97, but Ive had this computer since before I started using OpenOffice.

    One thing though, Word 97 is definitely faster than OO 3.0 on this computer.


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