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Microsoft Office Use Erodes Among UK SMBs

Despite the dominance of Microsoft Office, Google Apps may be gaining ground with small businesses in the United Kingdom, according to a new study.

Accredited Supplier, a U.K.-based B2B marketplace, polled 1,400 Microsoft (NASDAQ: MSFT) customers, and found that 13 percent plan to switch from Office to Google Apps within the next 12 months.

That can't be good news for Microsoft executives, given the large role that Office still plays in the company's bottom line.

Google Apps provides a Bundle of browser-based productivity applications such as e-mail, instant messaging, Web sites and calendaring, as well as Google Docs, which includes key applications like word processing, spreadsheets and presentations.

Don't start planning Office's funeral quite yet, however. The same poll found that 36 percent said they are not switching, while another 22 percent were "undecided." Further, 26 percent were unaware of Google Apps.

Additionally, the forthcoming release of Office 2010 will include Microsoft's first browser-based versions of its core applications. It remains to be seen if the release will be able to mollify small business concerns when it comes out in the first half of next year.

For instance, some 62 percent of the survey respondents said they "prefer" or "strongly prefer" to have their business applications run in a browser. Still, Office 2010 is nearly a year away from "general availability" if the company stays on schedule.

That timetable may be in question.

Just this week, Microsoft missed its original deadline for beginning a technology preview for the Office Web applications, which was supposed to start by the end of August. Company officials now say that date was only "tentative," however, and that the preview will begin "soon."

The Office Web applications aim to provide lightweight versions of Word, Excel, PowerPoint and OneNote. Other existing Microsoft Live services already provide browser-based versions of components such as e-mail, calendaring and instant messaging.

With its Live services initiative and now with Office Web, Microsoft has been trying to carefully preserve its PC-based Office product franchise because of its hearty contribution to the company's bottom line. At the same time, the company's executives have known for several years that much of the computing environment of the future lies "in the cloud," with access often coming through a browser interface.

That makes one result of the Accredited Supplier survey stand out.

Some 32 percent of those polled run the Firefox browser, as compared to 58 percent for Internet Explorer. In recent years, users' choice of browsers has become almost a political statement, particularly when it comes to Firefox.

That may illuminate another of the survey's results. A mere eight percent of those polled said they are planning to migrate to Windows 7 within 12 months of its October release. Meanwhile, 62 percent say they will not migrate within that time frame, while another 30 are unsure.

A spokesperson for Accredited Supplier said that the poll's methodology included speaking with each buyer on the telephone. Additionally, each Microsoft customer in the survey had fewer than 50 staff members.

For its part, Microsoft says it's not worried.

"As businesses of all sizes look for hosted services, we are confident Microsoft Online Services will stand out as a flexible, reliable and -- most importantly -- safe and secure solution," a company spokesperson said in an e-mail to InternetNews.com.