Microsoft's Response to Google's Collaboration Plug-In for Office
Reacting to a recently released Google plug-in for Microsoft Office that enables document sharing and collaboration, Microsoft fired back at Google on Thursday in a blog post.
In the blog post, Microsoft suggested that the new Google Cloud Connect for Microsoft Office had three basic problems. First, Microsoft alleges data privacy problems. If you turn on automatic syncing and don't change the default sharing location, all documents are accessible to others, Microsoft claims. A comment by a reader of Microsoft's blog stated that this critique is not true because the default document storage is set to be private.
Second, Microsoft's blog says that some Office functionality is lost and document fidelity is sketchy for shared documents. The missing features include "track changes" and "autostyles" among others. The complaint about missing features may be true, but even Microsoft has been gradually improving feature support in its Office Web Apps, which aren't identical in terms of features and user interface to Microsoft's premises-installed Office products. Microsoft does offer fairly good document fidelity in its Office Web Apps through a "reading view" pane, according to a recent review of the free Windows Live Office Web Apps version.
Lastly, Microsoft claims that Google Cloud Connect for Microsoft Office can lose data and that it isn't intuitive to use. I found that Google's plug-in works similarly to Microsoft's Windows Live Office Web Apps, showing a bar below the Office toolbars that lets users sync a document to the cloud. That seemed rather easy to use.
A video in Microsoft's blog post shows document sharing with automatic syncing turned off. In that case, a user would be required to recheck that changes haven't been made on a shared document before proceeding with an edit. While that may be a little confusing, the video claims more broadly that Google Cloud Connect for Microsoft Office has a problem reconciling changes in shared documents, creating a "Frankenstein" mish-mash.
Those wanting to test the Google Cloud Connect for Microsoft Office plug-in, which works with Microsoft Office 2010, 2007 and 2003 editions, can get it for free here (requires Google account). Those wanting to try Microsoft's free Windows Live Office Web Apps can download the plug-in here (requires Windows Live ID sign-up).
Microsoft offers Office Web Apps to organizations, as well as consumers. However, to enable collaboration within a computing environment and outside an organization, Office Web Apps need SharePoint 2010 or the free SharePoint Foundation 2010 to work. Coauthoring, or the simultaneous editing of a document by different parties in real time, is currently not available for all Office Web Apps. For more information on those details, see Microsoft's explanation here in the footnotes.
Kurt Mackie is online news editor for the 1105 Enterprise Computing Group.