Google Apps updates...something for everyone or about time?

What seems like fluff in Google Apps updates really is just a response to user requests, most of which are aimed at making Google Docs more like Office. But is that really necessary?

This week, Google announced several updates to its Google Apps online productivity suite. Improved migration tools and the ability to paginate Google Docs were followed by an new administrator interface. And yes, I did just say that Google announced pagination.

In fairness, Google Docs has had the ability to insert page breaks for some time now. You just couldn't really see the pages very well. Or know for sure where soft breaks would occur. Fairness aside, though, this bit of news is being met with almost as much scorn as the great ruler debacle of 2010. A year ago today, Google announced a ruler with tab stops in the Google Docs interface and Microsoft responded with an unusually clever snark:

Andrew Kisslo, a Sr. Product Manager with the Office group, blogged about the new features on Wednesday, noting, “Rumor is the WordPad Team is very nervous about that leap in productivity gain. (Yes that’s a joke.)”

And yet...

Google Docs has always been about creating content and sharing it with coworkers. Page breaks, after all, don't exist on the Internet. Only scroll wheels or, if you're lucky, two-fingered scrolling on your touchpad, make the difference between a short page and a long one.

I use Google Docs now in my new job working for a virtual classroom company more than I ever have. The majority of my colleagues are in northern and central India and we get to talk when we occasionally happen to be conscious simultaneously. Fortunately, I'm a night owl and they seem to just work all the time, so it's OK. However, as their head of marketing, I'm constantly collaborating on documents and pulling together content that will ultimately go into a CMS, onto a web page, or into a press release anyway. It doesn't matter if it has pages.

Of course, it's smart of Google to add this visual queue. Students around the world have had to hit Print every 10 minutes to see if they've actually written a 5-page essay since schools started adopting Google Apps. Now, they will know for sure.

But now for the more substantive updates. You can now add custom themes to Gmail!

OK, now I'm being snarky.

The updates that matter include the deprecation of their IMAP email migration tool, used to bring user accounts from other systems over to Apps. Rather, the Exchange Migration tool has been enhanced to handle more than just Exchange. According to the Google blog,

The IMAP mail migration tool in the administrator Control Panel will no longer be accessible as of April 30th. We recommend using the Google Apps Migration for Microsoft Exchange utility which migrates email from IMAP mail servers in addition to supporting migration from Exchange Server 2003/2007/2010, PST files, and Google Apps.

The update to the "Google Apps Migration for Microsoft Exchange" is discussed in more detail here.

There were other updates for Lotus Notes users, but I think they all work at IBM anyway, so we can ignore those.

The point of all this is that Google Apps is steadily marching forward with enhancements and tweaks. Nothing revolutionary recently, but many enhancements to the entire suite of related products. As I asked a year ago, is it enough to compete with Office 2010? It certainly is in my job right now. I think it is for a lot of other users, too. But even I can't keep the snark out of a blog post on these little tweaks. Maybe it's just late and I should get some sleep, but more likely, Google still has a ways to go to convince people that all they really need is a browser.