Google Tries To Show Microsoft How The Cloud Should Work*

You would think Microsoft’s Skydrive cloud storage service would work great with Microsoft’s Office documents, but the lack of coordination between the two product groups makes for some frustrating experiences.

Now, Google thinks it can do better.

Earlier this year, Google introduced a plug-in for Office 2003 and later that lets you sync documents from Office apps to Google Docs without ever having to open a browser. It’s called Google Cloud Connect.

Today, the company announced an update: you can now open documents stored on Google Docs from directly within Office through a new menu option. It works in Office 2003 and later on the PC (there’s no Mac support yet because of a “lack of support for open APIs on Office for Macs,” says Google).

Microsoft has a similar feature, but it only works with Office 2010.

Sounded great. Unfortunately, I couldn’t get it to work:

Google Cloud Connect fail

Whoops. One of these days somebody’s going to get this cloud computing thing right.

*Update: I spoke to a manager on the Google Docs team and he explained that the feature ONLY opens files that are in formats supported by Office, like .doc and .docx for Word or .xls and .xlsx for Excel. When I uploaded my documents and spreadsheets to Docs through the browser, they were automatically converted to a different Google-specific format, which is necessary so that they can be edited from a Web browser. (This is the default behaviour. I thought I’d unchecked the checkbox, but apparently not.) Those Google-formatted files can’t be opened from Office, so Google decided they shouldn’t even show up in the dialog box.

In other words, Cloud Connect is useful for people who do most of their work in Office and want simply to use Google Docs for free backup. It’s less useful for people who do some work in the browser and other work in Office, and want all files to be available from everywhere without having to think about what format they’re in.

We confirmed that the feature is working as designed — I built a document in Word, saved it to Google Docs from Cloud Connect, then reopened it from Word using Cloud Connect.

We both agreed that a better user experience would be having the Google-formatted files show up — but when users try to open them, they would simply open in the default Web browser. Google is planning to update Cloud Connect to work this way later this year.

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