Google rolls out Cloud Connect rival to Office

By Dow Jones Newswires-Wall Street Journal
Posted Feb. 23 at 12:30 p.m.

Google Inc., taking aim at Microsoft Corp.’s  lucrative Office franchise, plans to release a free tool allowing users to transfer files from the widely used software suite to the Web so that multiple people can edit and collaborate on them.

The long-anticipated move is intended to bolster one of Google’s fastest-growing businesses not related to its popular search engine — selling online software to companies. The company’s Google Apps offering includes online word-processing, spreadsheet and collaboration tools used through a Web browser that are part of a service called Google Docs. They compete with Office applications such as Word, Excel and PowerPoint.

Though Google Apps comes in free and paid versions that are much less expensive than Office, some customers have resisted using them because employees are accustomed to Office.

Google plans to introduce the new Google tool, called Cloud Connect for Microsoft Office, this week after releasing it to early testers in November. The company said it uploads Office files, uploads them to Google’s servers and gives them a unique Web address so they and can be accessed through Google Docs from any Internet-connected device. The files can also be accessed from within Office.

Once the files are on the Web — the “cloud,” in industry parlance — documents can be shared and edited by multiple people, Google said. The tool allows people to comment on documents online and make those comments visible to others, Google said. Cloud Connect is free to individual users and paying customers for Google Apps.

The Google service was developed by a start-up, DocVerse, which Google acquired last year. DocVerse had sold the software to businesses that collectively had hundreds of thousands of employees.

“It’s like a set of training wheels for the cloud,” said Shan Sinha, a Google product group manager who co-founded DocVerse and was previously a Microsoft employee. He said “Microsoft is fighting an uphill battle, with this huge weight behind them,” referring Office’s roots on computer hard drives rather than the Web. “We’re able to meet people at the top of the hill,” he said.

Microsoft suggested most users will stick to Office. “People trust Microsoft to provide the best productivity experience on the PC, phone and browser,” said Clint Patterson, director of Microsoft Online Services, in a prepared statement. “While we appreciate that Google is acknowledging the incredible customer demand for Office, used by over 750 million people worldwide, we believe people will find the Cloud Connect experience falls short of meeting their needs.”

Ravi Simhambhatla, vice president of IT and business applications at Tesla Motors Inc., which uses Office, said Cloud Connect could go a long way in winning over businesses that feared they wouldn’t be able to collaborate on documents with business partners who were using Office. “I can see businesses jettisoning their fears” and “readily adopting the Google Apps platform in greater numbers,” he said.

Last year, while at airline Virgin America, Simhambhatla oversaw the company’s move to Google’s e-mail system from Microsoft’s.

Google said more than 3 million businesses use Google Apps, though many aren’t paying for it. Businesses with 50 or more employees must pay a fee of $50 per year for each user.

In addition to competing vigorously over the business market, Google and Microsoft are vying for contracts to provide local, state and federal government agencies with online software.

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