Microsoft’s online product director May 11 dispelled the notion that Google Docs improves the experience of using Microsoft Office, and demonstrated how moving files created with Office results in the loss of data fidelity.
Google has been pitching migration from Office, which has more than 500 million seats worldwide, to Google Docs, the company’s Web-based document, presentation and spreadsheet centerpiece of the Google Apps collaboration software suite.
The company ratcheted up this argument leading up to the launch of Office 2010 in an effort to convince existing Office users not to move from the free Office Web Apps suite of applications geared to replace Google Docs in the cloud.
Matthew Glotzbach, Google enterprise product management director, said May 11 Docs makes Office 2003 and 2007 better because users can store Office documents in Google’s cloud and share them in their original format.
Alex Payne, director of Microsoft’s online product management team, argued that this was not the case in a blog post and demo video May 11, one day before Microsoft’s ballyhooed launch of Office 2010 in New York. “They are claiming that an organization can use both seamlessly,” Payne wrote. “This just isn’t the case.”
Payne explained that converting Office files to be read and edited in Docs results in the loss of such data components as charts, styles, watermarks, fonts, tracked changes and SmartArt.
To prove his point, a Microsoft product manager demonstrated in this video how uploading and converting Office files for the Google Docs cloud results in several lost data components of the document originally created in Office. The file’s original watermark, page breaks, SmartArt, chart and columns were missing in action or wrongly rendered in Google Docs.
The official then showed how users can cleanly move Office documents to Office Word Web Apps in Office 2010, a move that left the document’s formatting and content nearly identical to its original state.
Why Migration from Office to Docs Is Unfaithful
So what was the difference? Why was Microsoft able to migrate its file data so cleanly to Office Web Apps? Microsoft doesn’t have to convert the file when moving it from the on-premises Office suite to Office Web Apps in Office 2010.
“If you have a document that was created in Office and you upload it to our Office Web apps (Excel, Word, PowerPoint and OneNote), the document will look almost identical when you view it in the browser (IE [Internet Explorer], Firefox and Safari) and we maintain the components in the doc even if you don’t see them in the Web,” Payne wrote.
“This means that a document that shows up back in the rich client Office (after starting there, going to the Web and back) will look just like it did when you started (with full functionality).”
Payne then cautioned users not to move Office applications to the Docs cloud because it could “incur quite a bit of ‘cost’ to learn this painfully” in the form of lost data and content.
Google meanwhile defended its original “Docs makes Office better” argument in a statement to eWEEK May 13, noting that it has made a lot of improvements to the Web editors in Docs with its April Docs refresh. This on-premises-to-cloud functionality, Google promised, will only get better as Google integrates the DocVerse assets into Docs.
“It says a lot about Microsoft’s approach to customer lock-in that the company touts its proprietary document formats, which only Microsoft software can render with true fidelity, as the reason to avoid using other products,” a Google spokesperson told eWEEK. “At Google, we have a dedicated team of engineers (they call themselves the Data Liberation Front) who work to make it easy to get your information out of Google products. Of course, the real task for the Docs team is not interoperability with Office, it’s to improve team collaboration to increase productivity and reinvent the way people work.”
Meanwhile, Office is still king of the productivity suite hill, responsible for much of the approximately $19 billion Microsoft’s business software has brought to the company’s coffers each year.
Notably, Forrester Research surveyed 115 businesses and found only 4 percent using Google Apps, compared with 81 percent using Office 2007.