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Google Buys Maker Of Microsoft Office Plugin

By acquiring DocVerse, Google is paving the road to cloud computing.

Google does not own Microsoft Office, but it appears to be investing in it nonetheless: The company on Friday said that it had acquired DocVerse, a start-up founded in 2007 by two ex-Microsoft engineers.

The terms of the deal were not disclosed, though The Wall Street Journal reports that Google is paying about $25 million.

DocVerse makes plugin software that enables cloud-based collaboration in Microsoft Office applications Word, PowerPoint, and Excel. It gives Office users something similar to the collaborative functionality of Google Apps in what for many remains a more familiar, more comfortable environment.

Yet Jonathan Rochelle, group product manager on the Google Apps team, suggests all is not as it seems: Google isn't buying into Microsoft; rather it's buying a bridge from Microsoft Office to the world of cloud computing. There are, after all, some 600 million Office users out there, according to DocVerse, and getting them to migrate to Google Apps won't happen overnight.

"We definitely see this as an investment in the cloud, not an investment in the desktop," said Rochelle in a phone interview. "For us, because we're allowing people to collaborate using formats they're familiar with -- spreadsheets and documents and presentations -- we've definitely found a new pain point: People are saying, 'Help us get to the cloud.' So really for us, DocVerse is not an investment in the desktop. It's an investment to help people who are stuck on the desktop, who are using older tools and more traditional ways to create content."

Google has been building escape routes for a while. Last summer, for example, the company introduced Google Apps Sync for Microsoft Outlook, which allows Outlook users to connect to Google Apps for e-mail, contacts, and calendar data. It turns Outlook into what amounts to a skin, or user-interface, for Google's cloud.

Microsoft is not the only company targeted thus. Google's iPhone app for Google Voice commandeered the iPhone's dialing keypad, which prompted Apple to refuse to approve the app. Google then released a Web-based Google Voice client as an alternate road to its cloud-based voice service.

The cloud is where applications are headed, particularly Microsoft Office. Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer said as much in a speech at the University of Washington on Thursday. "[T]aking Microsoft Office to the cloud, letting it run in the cloud, letting it run from the cloud, helping it let people connect and communicate, and express themselves," he said. "That's one of the core kind of technical ambitions behind the next release of our Office product, which you'll see coming to market this June."

But Microsoft is not moving fast enough, as least as far as the founders of DocVerse are concerned. "We recognized this trend was happening," explained Shan Sinha, co-founder and CEO of DocVerse. "It's one of the reasons we left Microsoft to start DocVerse. Getting to the cloud means there's going to be a large number of people who are starting from software that's 20 years old. [Our concern] was how best do we bring people into the cloud? When we think about Google, what see see is the company that's really starting to define, and has defined, how cloud-based applications should work."

DocVerse is Google's tenth acquisition in the past eight months.

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