Initially released as a limited preview in November 2010, Google Cloud Connect for Microsoft Office is now available worldwide. It allows users to create documents in Microsoft Office 2003, 2007, or 2010, and then to share and sync them through Google Apps.
From the user's point of view, it's a way to add Google's real-time editing and collaboration capabilities to Office. From Google's point of view, it's a way to spread the cloud religion.
"What Google Cloud Connect really does is gives companies a set of training wheels to learn how to embrace the cloud with the tools they're using today," said Google group product manager Shan Sinha in a phone interview.
Sinha founded DocVerse, which created the technology now called Google Cloud Connect and was acquired by Google early last year.
A few years ago, Google was reluctant to position Google Apps as an Office competitor, in part because it wasn't really a viable alternative for most users. But following a major revision last year, the company has become less shy about stating the obvious: that Google's aim is to win business from Microsoft.
"The message we really want to convey to the market and customers is that our collaboration offering gives companies an opportunity to wind down their deployment of Microsoft Office," said Sinha.
This is not something a lot of businesses have been seriously contemplating. An InformationWeek Analytics survey last year found that 87% of respondents expected their companies would continue to be Office shops in two years.
But attitudes towards Google Apps and other cloud-based apps are shifting. And to help accelerate that process, Google has launched its 90-Day Appsperience program, which allows entire organizations to conduct a three-month test drive of Google Apps. The program costs $7,000 for organizations from 50 to 500 people and $15,000 for organizations with more than 500 people.
Given that Google Apps for Business costs $50 per user per year, the math may not make a lot of sense for companies of a few hundred employees or less. The program, however, is administered by a Google Apps reseller and brings with it user training, change management assistance, and 35 hours of support to help with user account creation, domain setup, and the like. Companies new to the cloud may find these services useful.
In conjunction with its program, Google is introducing a new collaboration dashboard to help administrators figure out who's using Google Apps and for what. The dashboard is an analytics tool that allow organizations to make cost assessments by showing, for example, how collaboration is saving bandwidth by eliminating the need to send files as attachments.
The Appsperience program is a good deal for Google Apps resellers: Google's partners get to keep a 20% cut of Google Apps subscription fees on ongoing annuity basis. Such incentives are likely to sustain a strong force of Google Apps evangelists and to keep Microsoft scrambling to improve its answer to Google Apps, Office 365.
Sinha doesn't appear to be worried.
"If you really dig in to what's offered, you realize that even with Office 365, it's really based around the Office and SharePoint suites of software, and those products don't offer anything near what we offer," he said.