Google may be generating interest from customers who want to access Google Apps data through the more familiar Microsoft Outlook interface, but it isn’t the only vendor providing plug-ins to help users marry the benefits of cloud computing with their Microsoft Office data.
Enter OffiSync, a plug-in for Microsoft Office that lets users access Google Apps, Google Docs and Google search from within any Office application, including Microsoft Word, PowerPoint and Excel documents. The tool comes as software makers, led by Google, Microsoft, Cisco Systems and Zoho, are trying to expose more users to document creation and sharing in the cloud, or through the Internet.
Once installed, the plug-in appears as a new tool bar in Microsoft Office applications and allows users to save their Office files online for access from any desktop or laptop computer using Google Apps and Docs; find specific files with Google search; and collaborate on documents with coworkers through Google Docs.
The tool has been available as a beta for consumers to download since May. Later in July, businesses will be able to purchase a beta version of OffiSync for $10 per user per year, said Oudi Antebi, an entrepreneur who created OffiSync with the help of some programmers.
The enterprise version, which will be sold exclusively through as yet unnamed channel partners, will leverage the global address book in Google Apps, enabling business workers to more easily connect with colleagues.
Antebi, a former product manager for Microsoft Office, said the idea for OffiSync came from watching users create and edit documents in Microsoft Office, upload them for collaboration in Google Docs, and bring files back into Office to save them on the desktop. This process was so complex that he decided to fix it.
Analysts Question OffiSyncs Enterprise Viability
Hence, OffiSync was born. The tool lets users create a Word, PowerPoint or Excel document and save the file online through a Google Apps account or save it directly to the desktop. Once that’s done, users can access and edit the document, choosing to save changes online or in the desktop version or both.
To retrieve saved documents users can use the search feature within OffiSync to find specific files. OffiSync also lets users save and find associated images from Google Search.
Users can add collaborators by entering their e-mail addresses and assign them user permissions. Multiple users can also work on the document at the same time and view each other’s edits in real time. Eventually, OffiSync will integrate with Google Maps and Google App Engine.
Google Enterprise Product Management Director Matt Glotzbach praised the product: “I think it’s a great set of functionality and helps a business or enterprise bridge that experience gap between users that want to work in native Office apps and those users who want to work in the cloud.”
Despite this functionality, is OffiSync ready for the enterprise? IDC analyst Melissa Webster told eWEEK:
“I’m not so convinced there’s much enterprise uptake of Google Docs, so I’m skeptical there’s a waiting market for this plug-in among enterprise customers. I also think it will become increasingly difficult for small vendors to play a real role here as Microsoft rolls out its next version of Office, SharePoint, etc. Providing a seamless desktop/SAAS [software as a service] experience is very much Microsoft’s stated vision, [so] we can expect them to innovate in this area.“
Forrester Research analyst Rob Koplowitz, who prefers to use Microsoft Office for document creation and Google Docs for document collaboration, had a different take on the usefulness of OffiSync.
“The general value proposition makes sense, but isn’t it ultimately better served by an offline version of Google Docs, or Office Live WorkSpace with Office so the user can have the offline/online experience with a single product? I love Google Docs and Office, but rarely move docs between the two because of the loss of formatting fidelity,” Koplowitz said.
To catch on in the enterprise, OffiSync will need to circumvent these barriers, boosting the plug-in’s usefulness for consumers and businesses.