Google Docs and Spreadsheets May Make Microsoft Office Unnecessary on Our New MacBook

My wife Kathleen is finally going to get the new Apple MacBook that she's been eyeing for months.

This purchase will be a major liberation for her in the sense that she will be able to manage photos from the main family digital camera, the Canon PowerShot A540, sync her Treo 650 to her own machine, and so on.

The concern that has been hanging over us since we started talking about buying a MacBook is: What will we do to get Microsoft Office on this machine? I'm starting to think that this is really the wrong question to be asking ourselves, and that we should be looking at Microsoft Office alternatives that are free, because they are better than ever before.

I'm thinking specifically of Google Docs and Spreadsheets now that Google Gears has been announced. Google Gears is a JavaScript library that provides off-line persistence for web applications so you can use them when you aren't on-line. We probably wouldn't need this capability when working in The Home Office, since we have abundant Internet connectivity, but it would be handy for working on word processing and spreadsheet documents while on a plane or another place where wireless Internet access is sporadic or non-existent.

Google Gears is not currently integrated into Google Docs and Spreadsheets, but it's very likely to be rolled out soon.

Microsoft Office 2004 does exist for the Macintosh, it just hasn't been updated in a long time and must be run in emulation on Intel-based Macs. I think everyone who is buying a Mac today ought to wait before buying Microsoft Office, at least until a native Intel version of the software is released. There are some indications that Microsoft Office 2008 for MacOS X will ship in the second half of 2007 and that version will finally provide native support for Intel-based Macs.

I'm not saying that Google Docs and Spreadsheets with Google Gears will be a 100-percent replacement for Microsoft Office on a Windows Vista or XP box, but I'm think that these applications will be a better solution than running Parallels or VMware Workstation for MacOS X on that laptop just to get word processing, spreadsheets, and an occasional presentation.

Whether the new version of Microsoft Office for the Macintosh is worth purchasing in the first place is an open question. I suspect that it won't be worth it to me. We'll see what Kathleen thinks when it finally ships.