Google Apps Product Manager Discusses the Collaboration War with Microsoft

Google Apps' Rishi Chandra discusses Google's attack on Microsoft's Office productivity software suite with Google Docs. The senior product manager also notes that Microsoft's development process will be too slow to rally new features the way Google can with its bi-weekly iteration cycle. Chandra also discusses the role of HTML 5 and Google Wave in Google Apps' future.

The Google Apps team, which seems to launch new features for its software as a service applications every other week, is preparing for a busy fall of new features in an increasingly complex collaboration software market.

Not only is the company chasing Microsoft Office and SharePoint applications from below, but Microsoft in 2010 will begin chasing Google Apps from behind with Office Web, the company's entrant into the cloud computing market for word processing, spreadsheet and presentation applications.

Rishi Chandra, a senior product manager for collaboration at Google Apps, recently discussed with eWEEK Microsoft's cloud computing challenge and Google's answer to that challenge, noting that Google does not want to put another Office on the Web. Also top-of-mind for Chandra was Google Apps' future with Google Wave and the effect HTML 5 is going to have on the collaboration market.

Q: You more or less told me putting Microsoft Office on the Web was not that interesting to Google. You're referring to Microsoft's forthcoming Office Web suite. But it sounds as if you're assuming Microsoft isn't going to innovate once it releases Office Web. What is making you assume Office Web is going to head down the path Google Apps has tread on?

It's hard for me to comment on what Microsoft is going to do with Office Web. I will say that if you look at Office 2010, the vision we see is that Microsoft will offer collaboration capabilities, but only around SharePoint 2010. That's what has been indicated. It's not about changing the applications they have today, it's about redesigning them from the ground up. In terms of the innovation curve that we have, we release features every two weeks. That is fundamentally what is going to be Google's differentiation here. We can continue to react very quickly to product trends and update the products themselves in a way that doesn't handicap how users are using that technology.

If you think about Office 2010, the product that they are going to be delivering mid-next year, that is going to be the product for the next four years, until they do a product refresh of Office and SharePoint. That's the challenge of moving from a client-server model to the cloud model. We are going to continue to innovate over that period, so our applications are going to be more dynamic than what you'd have in a traditional client server model.

Q: What work is Google doing to import and export documents between Microsoft Office and Google Apps?

We're going to make that process incredibly simple and easy to do, so you can continue to have the rich collaboration features with Google Docs, but you don't have to deal with loss of fidelity. This has always been the challenge for OpenOffice or StarOffice.

The reality is, every company has hundreds of thousands of documents, so we have to work with those documents if we want to be the next-generation collaboration platform. We do allow you to upload a PowerPoint deck or an Excel spreadsheet directly into Google Apps and start collaborating on it, and you'll see the import technology improve over time.

We are improving it all the time to make sure you have no loss of fidelity and that can still make use of that content that you already have. There are going to be some users out there which will want to continue to use Office. We want to accommodate them so that if they want to author it in Excel, but share it with others, they can bring it into Google Docs and make that happen.

Office is always going to have a place in business, but rather than being the default application for the entire work force, it will be something to the affect of what Photoshop is to a lot of organizations. Photoshop is an incredibly powerful tool for power users that want that capability, but not everyone needs it. That's what we're going to find for a lot more of these individual productivity applications that exist today.