Research firm: Google Docs tops online rivals on visitors

Statistics show a sevenfold increase in traffic for Google's apps suite during October

Google's Google Docs software has cemented its position as the leading suite of online office applications, based on unique-visitors statistics released Thursday by a Web-audience research firm showing Google holding a commanding lead over start-up rivals as well as Microsoft.

The Web site for the free, still-in-beta Google Docs suite snared more than 1.4 million unique visitors in October, seven times more than it did in the same month last year, according to Boston-based Compete.

Becky Bitzenhofer, a Compete analyst, wrote in a blog posting, that a "user interface overhaul and subsequent intense marketing in June seems to have ignited traffic" to the Google Docs site.

Bitzenhofer also attributed some of Google's gains to Microsoft's release of Office 2007 earlier this year. The new version of Microsoft's market-leading desktop suite includes "a whole new interface that is unfamiliar, and potentially frustrating, to the veteran Office user," she wrote.

Google Docs includes a Word-style document editor and an Excel-like spreadsheet application. Both store documents online, enabling multiple users to edit them, though not simultaneously. Bitzenhofer wrote in her posting that she counted users as unique visitors if they simply viewed a document or spreadsheet, thus not requiring that they actually create or edit one.

Google announced a PowerPoint-like app called Presentation last spring and made it available as part of Google Docs in September. But Bitzenhofer didn't include Presentation in her count of visitors to the Google Docs site.

Compete later released a broader set of statistics to the Web 2.0 news site Read/Write Web comparing the Google Docs visitor count with those of Microsoft's Office Live service as well as online rivals such as ThinkFree, Zoho and Zimbra, which now is owned by Yahoo. Those numbers showed Google with a huge lead, commanding nearly 10 times the traffic of Office Live, its closest rival.

Although the usage of Google Docs has grown relatively quickly, the technology in all likelihood has made little dent in the customer base of Office, which Microsoft claims is used by more than 500 million end users worldwide.

Microsoft has yet to release any statistics on the number of copies of Office 2007 it has sold thus far. But financially, the new Office suite has been a huge boon to the software vendor.

The Office Live service that Microsoft is using to combat Google Docs and other online suites includes a beta product called Office Live Workspace, which complements but doesn't replace Office, as well as a set of applications designed for small businesses. There also has been speculation that Microsoft may convert its low-end Works software suite into an online, ad-supported service.

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