While it has been a fairly quiet summer for Google Apps, the search engine giant’s enterprise team is intent on reaching a broader audience with the suite’s Docs and Sites collaboration tools, a Google product manager told eWEEK.
Google on Aug. 27 added the ability to translate documents in the Google Docs program into 42 languages with a few clicks of the mouse button. To translate, go to tools in Google Docs, select “translate document” and pick a language you want to use to convert the document.
The translation capabilities, culled from the Google Translate machine translation software engine, take on a new dimension when users leverage it within the Docs template gallery.
Anyone in a Google Apps domain can make a template and put it in their organization’s gallery. Colleagues from different companies will be able to grab a copy of the template and localize it into the language with which they’re most comfortable. Read more about this feature here on TechMeme.
The feature is just the latest in what will be a flurry of announcements from the Google Apps team surrounding Google Docs in the coming months, according Rishi Chandra, senior product manager for collaboration at Google Apps.
Google, which has been revving new Docs features almost every two weeks, continues to position Docs more and more as a team collaboration application and an alternative to Microsoft Office, which is focused on individual productivity. So, what’s changed about Google’s competitive differentiation between Docs and Office? Perhaps nothing, but Chandra said more users are interested in co-authoring documents and creating multiple versions that update on the fly.
To meet this shift, Chandra told eWEEK in an interview Aug. 26 that Google is working hard at pushing its Google Docs and Sites wiki applications to let users create and co-edit content, and then share it securely with colleagues.
But along with that, Google is also trying to build better bridges between Microsoft Office and Apps. Chandra said Google wants to make sure that Apps users can not only pull into Docs and Sites any document created in Office, but that they can also push those documents from Apps back to Office, all without losing formatting fidelity.
While Google believes it has made tremendous strides in this area in the last six months, Chandra said, “You’ll see more and more of that over the next six months.”
Going forward, Chandra also said Google expects the emerging HTML 5 specification to have a major impact on what Google and others will be able to do with browser-based applications. Chandra declined to pinpoint specific ties between Google Apps and HTML 5, but pointed to Google Wave, which is based on HTML 5. Wave enables rich co-authoring and sharing of documents and other content, all in real time.
Challenges for Google Docs, Apps
Chandra said users can expect a two-way street when it comes to Google Apps and Wave, which is set to roll out for 100,000 users to test on Sept. 30.
“It’s an experiment for us but … what we’ll find is a continuum where Wave will integrate with Google Apps, or we’ll take the technology from Wave and embed it directly into the applications themselves,” Chandra said.
Still, the Google Apps team, with its promise of enterprise-grade quality, remains under heavy scrutiny. Google has suffered widely publicized outages, and Docs has been found to have some security flaws.
These instances have thrown the reliability of Web-based or cloud computing apps into question as many experts look at Google as a leader in SAAS (software as a service) collaboration software. Questions around Google’s product quality crop up as well.
For example, a few of the blog posts on the new translation capabilities in Google Docs were subjected to pointed but fair criticism. Google Operating System’s Alex Chitu wrote: “The problem is that in both cases there’s no link between the original document and the translation. To better translate documents collaboratively, Google should integrate Google Translator Toolkit into Google Docs.”
ReadWriteWeb’s Steven Walling took issue with the translation quality of the tool with regard to its use within enterprises:
““We translated the first paragraph of the Google article on Wikipedia from English to Chinese and then back to English. If you try this same kind of test yourself, it quickly becomes obvious that this is no replacement for a human being; a good deal of meaning was lost in the process. We didn’t really expect this to be of mind-blowing perfection. But Google has definitely been pushing Google Apps as a suite worth spending big bucks on. To have something that unreliable included in a product they’re marketing as enterprise-grade software is not the best idea.”“
These conflicts come amid a number of positive developments. Earlier this week, Google enabled Gmail to connect with BlackBerry Enterprise Server. In July, Google launched Google Apps, including Gmail and Docs, from beta.
The company has also created a connector between Microsoft Office and Google Apps, and introduced a tool to migrate IBM Lotus users to Apps.
Even so, there is much work yet ahead for Google’s enterprise team, and Microsoft is no longer content to watch the cloud from afar; Office Web, the company’s answer to Google Apps, is coming this year.
Chandra and his Google Apps team have a lot to work on and some new competition to prepare for. “Putting Office on the Web is not that interesting from our perspective,” he added.