Both Google and Microsoft are intent on being Office users' preferred way of collaborating on documents.
Microsoft has been touting not only SharePoint, but also its Office Web Apps -- and its Microsoft Docs sibling -- as a way for users to share Office documents. Office Web Apps allows users running vaious browsers and operating systems to view (and sometimes also edit/create) Office documents, even if they don't have Office installed on their PCs or devices.
Google, as of November 22, has its own alternative: Google Cloud Connect for Microsoft Office. Google is offering an invitation-only early-access preview of Cloud Connect today.
Cloud Connect is based on the DocVerse technology that Google bought in March 2010. (DocVerse's founder and CEO is Shan Sinha, who formerly was invovled with SQL Server/SharePoint product strategy at Microsoft.)
Instead of pitching that Microsoft users dump Office, Google is positioning Cloud Connect as a way that Office 2003, 2007 and 2010 users can sync their Office documents to Google's cloud services. Cloud Connect is a 3 MB plug-in for Word, Excel and PowerPoint that Google developed using "purely public" Office application-programming interfaces (APIs), Google officials said. Once synced via the plug-in, documents are backed-up, given a unique URL that can be accessed via the Web on PCs and mobile devices, according to Google. Users can not only share documents, but also simultaneously coauthor and access their revision history on all documents.
The initial trial is aimed at Google Docs Apps for Business users, but Google Apps for Business Docs users also may be added to the preview program in the not-too-distant future. Once the final version of Cloud Connect launches, Google says it will be free for consumer and business users. (Google isn't providing a final release target date for Cloud Connect.)
If you're thinking what I was thinking -- that Cloud Connect might be the way that Google brings back offline access for Google Docs (by allowing/acknowledging that users can save documents in Office on their desktop) -- no dice.
"This is not offline access for Docs, even though it does support offline and online editing," Sinha told me. "Offline for Google Docs is still coming, but it will be built around HTML 5."
Google is, instead, positioning Cloud Connect as a way for current Office users, even those using older versions of the product, to avoid having to upgrade to the latest Office release to get functionality like document coauthoring.
"We are saying whatever version of the Office software you have, you can take your existing installed base and move it to the Web," Sinha said. "This isn't like messaging (which is more of an either Gmail or Exchange or Hotmail choice). This is not a rip-and-replace (pitch). It's about coexistence."
For customers running older versions of Microsoft Office -- or those running Office who have to collaborate with folks on Google Docs/Google Apps -- Cloud Connect might be useful. I'm not sure how many enterprise users need this kind of a bridge, however. Thoughts?