Taking a page from the Microsoft playbook of yesteryear, Google Docs today introduced a plug-in for Microsoft Office that offers a more convenient online syncing experience than Microsoft’s own product.
Google Cloud Connect, based on technology gained in Google’s March acquisition of DocVerse, is a plug-in for Word, Excel, and PowerPoint, and it works with versions 2003 and later. Whenever you save a file on your PC, it’ll sync the changes to Google Docs. Multiple people can edit local versions of the same file simultaneously, and conflicts (like two people changing the same part of a document in different ways) are handled through alerts to both users, asking them which version they’d like to save.
Microsoft built similar sync functionality right into Office 2010, but it’s more complicated. You either need to have a SharePoint site, which (at the very least) means buying Windows Server and installing the free version of SharePoint on top of it, or subscribing to SharePoint Online.
If you don’t want to pay, you need to use Microsoft’s free SkyDrive service, which isn’t so great for business collaboration–it uses individual Windows Live IDs, which means you have to go through and set permissions based on your colleagues’ Live ID usernames. Also, this feature is built into Office 2010, but users of earlier versions have to upload to SkyDrive manually. (There used to be a plug-in to save documents from Office 2003 and 2007 to a different service, Office Live Workspace, but that service was killed in favour of SkyDrive.)
This isn’t just a technical limitation, it’s a business decision. Microsoft doesn’t want cloud services to cannibalise software sales, so it goes to great lengths to make sure that its cloud services work best (or only) with the latest versions of its software. Google can take advantage of Microsoft’s quandary by making its online services work with whatever version of Microsoft software you happen to use.
Paying customers of Google Apps for Business can sign up to test out Cloud Connect now. The rest of us will get it when Cloud Connect launches next year.