Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Google Cloud Connect Rains on Microsoft

A few weeks back, bitter software rival Google commenced its most direct assault yet on Microsoft's core small-business products. The Mountain View, California-based software borg formally launched something called Cloud Connect for Microsoft Office .

Cloud Connect began life as DocVerse, a startup that was the brainchild of two former Microsoft developers. The tool, which was gobbled up by Google last year -- geeks really do make Wall Street look like a food co-op -- enables real-time collaboration of Microsoft Word, Excel and PowerPoint content. And it does so running from a user's computer and not via a Web browser, which is how Google Docs pulls of the same collab trick.
To get a feel for the small-business upside of the nonbrowser-based Cloud Connect -- and to get a sense of just how grim life looks for Microsoft now that Google is openly poaching in its backyard -- I downloaded the app and gave it the once-over.

What you get
Google Cloud Connect brazenly offers seamless Web integration for much of Microsoft Office's line of desktop software.
There is no way to soft-pedal this: Google is openly mocking Microsoft with Cloud Connect. The software, which is a diabolically simple, free, downloadable application, sets up shop right inside Microsoft Office files. Once installed, there the Cloud Connect plug-in is, inside the file, just underneath the ubiquitous Microsoft ribbon. "Audacious" is understating it.
Cloud Connect passively connects to the Web and creates a unique Internet address inside the Google App universe for each file. Then it "syncs" -- that is, rips off -- the content in that Word file, plunks it down in the Google Docs Web address and lets others store, sync and otherwise rip off data from their Microsoft files. It's pure genius.
And though you do need to be connected to the Web, you do not need to launch a browser. While it sounds nuts, the tool does enable small teams to use Google's infrastructure to collaborate on Microsoft's documents. You can't make it up.

What you don't get
Google Cloud Connect has no Mac support, some strange syncing issues and a truly horrible user interface.
As impressive as Cloud Connect is, several limitations will drive you bonkers.
First of all, that it will not work on Apple equipment is so stupid I can't even talk about it.
Second, syncing can be wonky in real-world use. I'll spare you the Geekish, but basically only on-desktop Microsoft files can be shared. The Web versions of those files must be translated into the Google Doc standard to be shared. It can be done, but, trust me, you don't want to try.
Third, Google clearly had a bad design day when it created the Cloud Connect toolbar. It is bad enough that it's clunky, poorly laid out and done in a horrifying blue. What's worse is that the thing is huge! And there is no easy way to hide or disable it. No kidding, a community college coding student would get a flat "F" on something like this. It's that bad.

Bottom line
I must say it is entertaining, in a maudlin sort of way, to see how deep a dis Google has just laid down on Microsoft with Cloud Connect. It flat-out, 100%, completely stiff-arms Word, Excel and PowerPoint. And assuming that that you don't expect the truly seamless Web experience Google claims, in the process it offers small businesses a marvelously effective way to collaborate and back up their Microsoft-based small-business data.
The question becomes: Where will Google strike next? Cloud Connect for Outlook? For Exchange? For Windows Server? Google is really operating in open space now.

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