When Microsoft Office 2010 comes out next year, it will finally include some Web-based collaborative editing capabilities to compete with Google Apps. However, a new third-party Office plug-in, OffiSync, available in a limited test form this week, attempts to bring the best of Office together with the best of Google Apps today.
OffiSync, founded by former Microsoft Office marketing manager Oudi Antebi, now VP of marketing and strategy at business intelligence company Panorama Software, combines Office and Google Docs with a new toolbar in Office that lets customers open and save Google Apps documents and collaborate on them or define collaborators from within Microsoft Word.
There are any number of reasons people might be slow to jump on the Google Apps bandwagon, including one big one in particular: It's just not Microsoft Office.
Most consumers and companies already have Office installed, and many companies have enterprise licenses that entitle them to free upgrades and additional perks. But Google Apps has fewer features than Office, and it could take a bit of training to turn newbie employees into power users.
Of course, the fact that it isn't Microsoft Office is also a reason Google Apps has gotten traction. Google Apps brings a few important features that Microsoft Office doesn't yet offer, including free Web-based editing and file storage, real-time and asynchronous collaboration, and more granular file search than is available in Windows.
Antebi says he now hears a familiar refrain when he talks to people about OffiSync: "I have never used Google Docs because I didn't want it to replace Office, but now I might use it because it just makes Office better."
The 8-MB download plug-in also allows users to manage their Google Docs file libraries as if they were local file stores. Users can search from within the open and save document dialogues built into OffiSync and send e-mail notifications to collaborators. Antebi plans to offer two versions, one for individuals and a paid version for enterprises that includes management and deployment features.
Unfortunately, collaboration is not yet real time, and it requires Word users to reopen a file to see the latest version. An update will include a "refresh" button; more real-time features are coming this summer. Other tweaks will make it simple to drag and drop Google Search results, Google Maps, and Google Image results to a Word document.
Since Google Docs and Microsoft Word don't have feature parity, any layout features Google Docs doesn't support will be lost in the shuffle, a big drawback for people who create complicated documents. "If something is not supported you will lose it when reopening," Antebi admits, adding that Google Docs is continuing to improve its support.
A feature called Open URL takes a Word user to the online version of the document to see what it looks like in Google Docs, helping users get around that limitation. He recommends that any final version of a document that's being prepared for presentation be saved in its final stages in Office rather than on Google.
Another big hurdle for OffiSync's success is Microsoft itself. Collaborative Web-based services called Office Web Apps are being baked into the next version of Office, but those services will work only with Windows-based Office 14, not with previous versions of the productivity suite or on the Mac. OffiSync also works with Office 2007 and Office 2003 and will soon be available on the Mac. Still, with built-in collaboration support in the next version of Office, OffiSync might need to get traction fast if it aims to thrive.
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