Anyone hoping that Google Apps can rival Microsoft's products in the enterprise marketplace will have pause for thought after reading the astonishing testimony of development manager Sergey Solyanik, who has just gone Back to Microsoft after a stint working at Google.
His blog post starts out innocuously enough with a list of good things at Google that Microsoft ought to emulate as an employer. But when it comes to "So why did I leave?" Solyanik rips into Google's working practices, in particular criticizing the effects of its business model, which emphasizes free software at the expense of utility. His conclusion is brutal:
"Google as an organization is not geared — culturally — to delivering enterprise class reliability to its user applications."
Solyanik leads up to this verdict with a three-step exposition. First of all his personal motivation for writing software:
"I can't write code for the sake of the technology alone — I need to know that the code is useful for others, and the only way to measure the usefulness is by the amount of money that the people are willing to part with to have access to my work."
From that starting point, he moves on to set out his dissatisfaction with Google's emphasis on building Web properties that are popular, but which "primarily help people waste time online," and its consequence for the engineering culture:
"This orientation towards cool, but not necessarilly useful or essential software really affects the way the software engineering is done. Everything is pretty much run by the engineering — PMs and testers are conspicuously absent from the process. While they do exist in theory, there are too few of them to matter."
While that makes it a lot easier to get a software project finished, it doesn't do much for the quality, he went on:
"It seems like every week 10% of all the features are broken in one or the other browser. And it's a different 10% every week — the old bugs are getting fixed, the new ones introduced. This across Blogger, Gmail, Google Docs, Maps, and more. This is probably fine for free software, but I always laugh when people tell me that Google Docs is viable competition to Microsoft Office. If it is, that is only true for the occasional users who would not buy Office anyway."
In conclusion, he sums up:
"[T]he culture at Google values "coolness" tremendously, and the quality of service not as much. At least in the places where I worked. Since I've been an infrastructure person for most of my life, I value reliability far, far more than "coolness", so I could never really learn to love the technical work I was doing at Google."
It's a damning indictment, and one that casts a long shadow over Google's attempts to replace Microsoft's pre-eminence in the office collaboration software market with its Google Apps suite. As a disruptive competitor, it doesn't have to match Microsoft Office feature-for-feature. But if it really is unreliable and buggy as Solyanik claims — and the current outage of Feedburner's Web analytics service lends further weight to this view — then Google doesn't even make the grade as a business-class SaaS provider.