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.
Chandra Discusses HTML 5, Google Wave
Q: You mentioned dealing with the loss of fidelity when importing documents from Office to Google Apps. What do you mean by that and what else is Google doing to improve the bridge between Office and Google Apps?
It’s the formatting around the data, so if you have a spreadsheet which has complex formatting around it, higher fidelity document editing will help solve that problem. The richness of what you can do in a Microsoft Word document, from a two-column layout having an image, which has text embedded around the image.
Those are things that we are building so Google can handle those types of documents. Your text will always be correct, we don’t have corruption of your content, but right now the fidelity of that content may not be perfect. For the majority of users that’s OK, but for more complex documents, there are scenarios where it doesn’t import perfectly well and we want to solve that problem.
Q: What are some things you’d like to do to bring Google Apps more on par with Office and SharePoint?
We want to have more powerful pivot tables in spreadsheets; multiple column layouts in documents is another example. On presentations, we want to have more advanced table functionality, more advanced animation functionality — all of the things that are more advanced use cases of PowerPoint and Excel.
Q: What will a completed HTML 5 specification enable Google Apps to do for collaboration?
Google Wave is built on HTML 5. There are a couple things that Wave does that makes the bridge between client applications and Web applications minimal. An example are the full, real-time aspects, where I type a letter and everyone in that document can see that letter. HTML 5 enables you to offer more vector-based graphics in the browser window itself. Browser capability is limited today by HTML, but HTML 5 adds a graphics renderer directly in the standard.
Another feature in HTML 5 is a caching capability, so you can do some caching in the browser itself so you don’t have to always ping the server. So if I have a low Internet connection, I can still get a rich experience in the browser and I can improve the speed because I have a local store of the UI or the data itself, which allows a much richer interaction with the application. HTML 5 has also taken a lot of the Google Gears spec, so you can have offline capability. All aspects of the HTML 5 spec are going to improve where we can go.
Q: Google Wave is a good segue for the next question. It seems that Google Wave, even in beta, does a lot of what Google Apps already does. What is the relationship between Google Apps and Google Wave?
Wave is a platform that lets me do a couple of things. It embeds real-time collaboration, but it doesn’t have a spreadsheet capability, so if I want structured content, there isn’t a way that Wave will solve that problem. Wave is a platform that lets other applications plug into it. My feeling is there is always going to be some role of Google Docs. You want to create a presentation, a document with rich editing and table, or a spreadsheet. Wave might be the mechanism by which you distribute and share that content longer term, but that is still to be determined. I think what you’ll see is a blending of Google Apps and Wave.
Q: So Wave will be leveraging the existing Google Apps?
Exactly. You’ll see a continuum. As Wave improves as a platform, Google Apps will become more integrated with it.