Google Cloud Connect: Threat to Microsoft Office?

Microsoft Office faces a new competitor with Google Cloud Connect, which seeks to draw Office users into using Google collaboration software.

Google has released Google Cloud Connect for Microsoft Office, which allows users to save their Office documents in Google Docs. Offered as a Web-based alternative, the free software plug-in represents yet another Google foray into cloud productivity. The question is, how much of a threat does it pose to Microsoft, which is also trying to expand its cloud offerings for Office workers?

As eWEEK's Clint Boulton explains in his Google Cloud Connect breakdown, the software not only saves copies of a user's Office documents to the Google Docs cloud, where they can be edited simultaneously by other users, but syncs them for access from a variety of PC and mobile devices. Cloud Connect works with Office 2003, 2007 and 2010; it will be accessible starting in 2011 to anyone with a Google account, although customers who already pay for Google Apps for Business can test the software now.

Multiple workers can edit Cloud Connect-enabled documents from within Office. Despite Cloud Connect's entwining Google and Microsoft functionality, however, Google's purpose in pushing the software seems fairly clear and one-sided: By drawing users' Office documents into the cloud for collaboration and storage, the search engine giant hopes to increase Google Apps' attractiveness over Microsoft Office.

Google's release comes just as Microsoft itself makes a major move into cloud-based productivity. In October, the company launched its Office 365 in limited beta. A rebranding of the company's BPOS (Business Productivity Online Suite, Office 365 combines Microsoft Office, SharePoint Online, Exchange Online and Lync Online into a unified cloud platform.

In combination with cloud platforms such as Windows Azure and smaller offerings along the lines of Office Web Apps, Office 365 is Microsoft's acknowledgment that, despite its storied rise as a creator of desktop-centric software, its future resides in the cloud. Microsoft's "all in" cloud strategy, in part, revolves around offering businesses access to applications and IT services over the Web.

The cloud space is so important to both companies, it seems, that Microsoft and Google are more than happy to lunge at each others' throats in defense of their product lines. Earlier in November, news broke that Google had filed a lawsuit against the federal government, alleging that the U.S. Department of the Interior unfairly restricted the search engine giant's ability to bid for a contract to update its e-mail and messaging system. Microsoft's BPOS-Federal suite won that $59 million contract.

Both companies have engaged in a tit-for-tat competition over large clients for cloud services, with Microsoft recently signing a contract with New York City to give a percentage of municipal employees access to cloud-based Microsoft applications. That followed Google's agreement to provide cloud-based applications to Los Angeles employees.

Will Google Cloud Connect for Microsoft Office change the competitive dynamic between Google and Microsoft's productivity offerings? A few months ago, the situation would have been very different; but the recent spate of Microsoft cloud offerings, combined with initiatives such as Facebook Messages' integration with Microsoft Office, places Redmond in a better position to compete with its Mountain View rival. As with smartphones, the battle for online-productivity dominance is still in its early stages.