In what can only be described as a stunner of a move, Google has released a new plug-in (Google Cloud Connect Office) which 'cloud-enables' Microsoft Office. Beating Microsoft to the punch with their own Office suite is not only a major embarrassment, but also an excellent example of how Microsoft is constantly floundering (all over the place) in this new web dominated world. Microsoft does have plans to release Office 356, later this year, which will bring better collaboration via office web apps, but this new Google plug-in bridges the gap between a desktop deployed application suite (with a cloud backing) and an all-in-the-cloud solution like Google Apps.
Cases can be made for both types of systems, but in the short term, a desktop based (and cloud backed) collaborative solution is the best option. As people become more comfortable with solutions that reside entirely in the cloud and software developers are able to create very light offline versions of these same solutions, the switch will gradually happen. Google has been trying to convince the enterprise space that a fully cloud based solution like Google Apps is the way to go. I mostly agree except for the fact that some sort of offline option is needed for people to work when there is no network connection present. Even though more airlines are starting to offer wi-fi in their planes, I still need a desktop based (locally installed is a better term) app to work. I have been saying (for a while now) that the iPad is the best thing since sliced bread. The iPad native versions of iWork are awesome, but I would love to see some more diversity in that area. An iPad native version of Libre Office (formerly Open Office) or even Microsoft Office would be great. Having the ability to work offline, then sync with the cloud is the panacea that I have been waiting for. It seemed so close with Google's (now defunct) Gears product and Google Apps. It remains to be seen where Google will go with that idea next.
For the time being, however, the Google Cloud Connect Office is the closest thing to an online/offline hybrid system. It will work with Office 2003 (people are still using this? seriously?), 2007 and 2010 versions of Word, Excel and Power Point. It remains to be seen if a version will be offered for Office 2008 or 2011 for Mac. There really is no reason not to have the same functionality for Mac. Apple is making huge inroads in the enterprise space, especially with the iPad. In a sense, the iPad is the ultimate cloud-enabled device, so leading on that platform will be key moving forward anywhere in the cloud space.
I think Google has hit a home-run with Cloud Connect Office on many levels. First and foremost, unlike trying to enlighten customers to the benefits of Google Apps, the plug-in will allow them to use a familiar product (MS Office) in a new way. It is much easier to introduce cloud and collaboration this way than to force enterprises to re-train employees on a new platform. Having a solid collaboration experience will also highlight the capabilities and enterprise reliability of Google's platform. Lastly, Google is demonstrating that they are willing to embrace a competitor's product while extending the functionality and delivering real value to enterprises. Google has all but shut out Microsoft in the cloud space, and Cloud Connect Office is one more way in which Microsoft is steadily losing market share and the deep entrenchment that they have enjoyed for so many years. In our modern era of having to do more with less, innovation is the only way to succeed and innovation is one of many things missing in Redmond.