Google is taking aim at Microsoft’s lucrative Office franchise with the release of a free tool allowing users to transfer files from the widely used software suite to the web so that multiple people can edit and collaborate on them.
The long-anticipated move is intended to bolster one of Google’s fastest-growing businesses not related to its popular search engine — selling online software to companies. The company’s Google Apps offering includes online word-processing, spreadsheet and collaboration tools used through a web browser that are part of a service called Google Docs.
They compete with Office applications such as Word, Excel and PowerPoint. Though Google Apps comes in free and paid versions that are much less expensive than Office, some customers have resisted using them because employees are accustomed to Office.
Google plans to formally introduce the new Google tool, called Cloud Connect for Microsoft Office, later this week after releasing it to early testers in November. The company says it takes Office files, uploads them to Google’s servers and gives them a unique Web address so they and can be accessed through Google Docs from any internet-connected device. The files can also be accessed from within Office.
Once the files are on the web — also called the “cloud,” in industry parlance — documents can be shared and simultaneously edited by multiple people, Google says. The tool allows people to comment on documents online and display those comments so they are visible to others, Google says. Cloud Connect is free to individual users and paying customers for Google Apps.
The Google service was first developed by a start-up, DocVerse, which Google acquired last year. DocVerse had sold the software to businesses that collectively had hundreds of thousands of employees.
“It’s like a set of training wheels for the cloud,” says Shan Sinha, a Google product group manager who co-founded DocVerse and was previously a Microsoft employee. He added that “Microsoft is fighting an uphill battle, with this huge weight behind them,” referring Office’s roots on computer hard drives rather than the Web. “We’re able to meet people at the top of the hill,” he said.
Microsoft suggested most users will stick to Office. “People trust Microsoft to provide the best productivity experience on the PC, phone and browser,” said Clint Patterson, director of Microsoft Online Services, in a statement. “While we appreciate that Google is acknowledging the incredible customer demand for Office, used by over 750 million people world-wide, we believe people will find the Cloud Connect experience falls short of meeting their needs.”
Ravi Simhambhatla, vice president of IT and business applications at Tesla Motors, which uses Office, said Cloud Connect could go a long way in winning over businesses that feared they wouldn’t be able to collaborate on documents with business partners who were using Office. “I can see businesses jettisoning their fears” and “readily adopting the Google Apps platform in greater numbers,” he said.
Last year, while at airline Virgin America, Mr Simhambhatla oversaw the company’s move to Google’s email system from Microsoft’s.
Google says more than three million businesses use Google Apps, though many aren’t paying for it. Businesses with 50 or more employees pay a fee of $US50 per year for each user.
In addition to competing vigorously over the business market, Google and Microsoft are vying for contracts to provide local, state and federal government agencies with online software.