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Google's big new cloud play: Should Microsoft be afraid?

Shane O'Neill | March 11, 2010
Late last week, Google made another aggressive move to stay ahead of Microsoft in the online productivity tools space by acquiring DocVerse

Kay says that regardless of Microsoft's new devotion to cloud computing, it still runs behind Google when it comes to online collaboration tools.

"Google is always trying to outflank Microsoft," Kay says. "There are a lot of benefits to a client-based collaborative system that synchs periodically via the cloud. Having it as an Office plug-in through Google Apps is pretty sweet."

The Real Problem: Google Incompatibility with Office

Nevertheless, there is a flip side to Google's purchase of DocVerse: It is an acknowledgement by Google that Office is the king of productivity apps and that incompatibility between Office and Google Docs has been a weakness.

Does DocVerse solve this weakness? No, writes PCWorld columnist David Coursey.

DocVerse is essentially an Office add-on that stores files in Google's cloud, writes Coursey. This may help convince Office users to try Google Apps, but it doesn't address the bigger problem of feature and file format incompatibility with Office.

"Limited compatibility with Microsoft Office is a major reason why many Google Apps free and paid customers prefer to use the e-mail and calendar features, but not the word processor, spreadsheet and presentation modules of Google Docs," writes Coursey.

Still Early Going for Google Apps

For the time being Office still dominates at large enterprises. A November survey of 2,000 IT decision-makers by research firm Forrester revealed that 80 percent of companies surveyed support some version of Microsoft Office, and 78 percent have no plans for implementing an alternative to Microsoft Office.

This could change as Google continues to tighten its focus on online collaboration tools for businesses, says Forrester analyst Sheri McLeish. But, she emphasizes, it's still early going for Google Apps.

"Yes, businesses are experimenting with Google Apps, but Google is still trying to sort out its apps and enterprise solution sets."

McLeish adds it's hard for most companies to make the business case to switch tools when users are comfortable and familiar with Office. "Google realizes this," she says, "which is why it is resorting to acquiring a company that basically helps people work online with Office formatted documents."

Clearly Google's long-term goal is to chip away at Microsoft's Office desktop suite dominance, but the DocVerse acquisition doesn't move the ball too far down the field, says McLeish.

"I see this as a complement to Office apps, not a replacement technology," she says.


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