There are more similarities than differences in Microsoft's and Google's approaches to building out their partner ecosystems for their respective hosted productivity suites.
Google Apps and Office Live are not head-to-head competitors. Google Apps includes hosted mail, calendar, document and spreadsheets. Office Live includes hosted mail, small-business accounting, workspace and (with two of the versions) business-contact management. (Office Live isn't a hosted version of Word, Excel, PowerPoint, etc.)
In spite of these distinctions, Google and Microsoft both realize that there's money to be made in convincing software vendors, systems integrators, consultants and other partners to build on top of their respective offerings. The adversaries also both realize the business potential of getting others to sell hosted versions of their wares.
On May 18, Google quietly unveiled its "Google Apps Partner Edition" offering that it's targeting at "ISPs, portals and other service providers."
"All you have to do is point and click in the easy admin control panel and figure out what branding you'd like to layer on top of the products in order to create a customized look and feel. You can quit spending your resources and time on applications like webmail -- and leave the work to our busy bees at the Googleplex," according to Product Manager Hunter Middleton, in a posting to the official Google Blog.
Microsoft, meanwhile, is slowly but surely working to build up a partner community around its Office Live set of hosted Office add-ons. At the recent Microsoft Mix '07 conference, Microsoft officials showed attendees how to customize the Office Live public site and applications, as well as how to build mash-ups using Office Live elements.
Microsoft is showcasing third-party-customized Office Live apps on the Office Live Marketplace. And it is centralizing resources for partners interested in building on top of Office Live on the "Office Live Innovate On" portal.
Microsoft's biggest potential stumbling block here, in my opinion, is that it is expected to field its own hosted Exchange, hosted SoftGrid and hosted SharePoint offerings, thus competing with some of the very partners that it has been courting.
Will partners gravitate toward Google or Microsoft in this customize-on-hosted-platforms space? Will it simply be a case of whoever has the best application programming interfaces (APIs) winning? ISVs and integrators: Are you more inclined to build on top of Google's or Microsoft's hosted solutions? (Or neither?)