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Microsoft, Google On Office Computing Collision Course

By the end of this year, both companies will find themselves on the same fundamental office computing architecture: a hybrid approach that supports both desktop- and browser-based office computing.

For example, as a result of a recent European Union antitrust measure, Microsoft must now publicly document any programming interfaces including those of Sharepoint. As a result, document management solution providers like Alfresco are racing to leverage that decision by adding Sharepoint server emulation as a feature of their products and services. This makes it possible for applications like Microsoft Office that contextually interface with Sharepoint to contextually interface with a solution like Alfresco instead (as though it were really a Sharepoint server). The EU's decision essentially empowered customers to make wholesale substitutions for Sharepoint.

But, if your organization is going to depend on other features of Sharepoint -- for example the Office Web Apps it provisions -- then making such substitutions might not be such a good idea.

Assuming most organizations are going have some number of power users that can't do without the desktop-based Office, the question then basically comes down to which company you should turn to for the browser-based (and inherently, the collaborative) side of things: Google or Microsoft. To help you sort through any confusion that might arise out of trying to do an apples-to-apples comparison, check out my scenario list below (and note which company has the advantage):

Scenario: You want a cloud-based offering now.

Both Microsoft and Google will be delivering high-fidelity office applications from the cloud. Google's newest offering -- which introduces much more fidelity in terms of document formatting (and therefore better compatibility with Word documents) won't be finished until early summer, but is available for users to try out in a pre-release mode until then.

For business users, Microsoft's Office Web Applications won't be available until the end of the year when it launches the "standard" multi-tenant version of the 2010 version of its Business Productivity Online Suite (BPOS-S). BPOS includes Sharepoint. Microsoft's will also offer consumer versions of its Web applications that are associated with its Skydrive storage service (Google has a Google Docs offering for consumers as well). Those versions will be supported by advertising. In the meantime, between the two companies, the only one of the two that offers cloud-based Office applications now is Google (as a part of Google Apps).

Advantage: Google

Scenario: You want browser-based applications on a non-shared infrastructure.

So far, Google hasn't had an incident where a hacker has broken through Google Apps' security and compromised the contents of an organization's data. A couple of years ago, when I asked a Google spokesperson about the trustworthiness of Google Apps from a security perspective, the answer simply was "if that trust gets broken, we're out of business."

Nevertheless, despite the track records of outfits like Google and when it comes to safeguarding confidential business data, many organizations are so nervous about putting storing their sensitive documents into a service that's accessible through the Internet (a.k.a. the cloud) that they refuse to do it. This is especially true with respect to Google after a recent and highly publicized attack involving the Gmail accounts of certain Chinese dissidents.

Whereas there is no on-premises version of Google Apps to deal with this concern, there is, of course, an on-premises version of Sharepoint. The current version of Sharepoint (and BPOS) cannot provision Microsoft's Web apps. The new version of Sharepoint (version 2010) which can provision Microsoft's browser-based applications to end users is due to be launched on May 12.

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