Google launches its next assault on "cumbersome, legacy" Microsoft Office

In the race to offer Microsoft Office functionality in the cloud, Google has beaten its rival getting a product out of development beta and into production release. Today Google announced global availability of Google Cloud Connect for Microsoft Office, which went into beta late last year. The technology builds off Google acquisition of DocVerse.

Microsoft is working on its own solution, Office 365, which is beta testing and is expected to go v1 sometime this year. For now, Google can claim first to market advantage as it looks to convert more Office users to its cloud services. The cloud is increasingly important to Microsoft. Last year, COO Kevin Turner said that 70 percent of cloud wins are new customers.

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In a November 2010 statement, Stephen Prentice, a Gartner vice president said: "Cloud computing heralds an evolution of business -- no less influential than the era of e-business -- in positive and negative ways." Microsoft's challenge is keeping Office relevant in the cloud-connected era of anytime, anywhere and on anything computing. Both Google and Microsoft emphasize the importance of collaboration in their respective Office-to-cloud offerings.

Google Cloud Connect for Microsoft Office is essentially a plugin for Windows versions of the productivity suit (2003, 2007, 2010). "The plugin syncs your work through Google's cloud, so everyone can contribute to the same version of a file at the same time," Shan Sinha, Google Apps product manager, explains in a blog post. The plugin isn't available for Macintosh Office. Sinha explains in another blog post: "Many of you have also asked about availability for Macs. Unfortunately due to the lack of support for open APIs on Microsoft Office for Mac, we are unable to make Google Cloud Connect available on Macs at this time. We look forward to when that time comes so we can provide this feature to our Mac customers as well."

Additionally, Google announced a 90-day trial for Appsperience. In what I can only call as a deliberate dig, Sinha describes Appsperience as "a way for companies that currently use cumbersome legacy systems to see how web-powered tools help their teams work together more effectively."

That's not a free trial, by the way. "A nominal fee covers 90-day access to Google Docs, Google Sites, Google Cloud Connect and more, as well as assistance from Google experts to help coworkers quickly become more productive together," Sinha writes. What is nominal? Google recommends two configurations for $7,000 or $15,000. The lower priced option is for 50 to 500 users and the other for more than 500 users. The costlier option also includes "single sign-on or password sync integration" and "collaboration champion training."

Well, it's not exactly try before you buy, is it? Microsoft typically doesn't charge customers to evaluate its software or services.

Google's new assault on Office comes as Microsoft's Business division emerges as the company's strongest performing group, suggesting cloud alternatives have yet to have any more bite than bark. During fiscal 2011 second quarter, revenue rose 24 percent to $6.032 billion from $4.864 billion a year earlier. Net income rose to $3.965 billion from $2.947.

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