While Google has key programmers concentrating on hatching products like Google Wave and Google Voice, Google Apps has been a regular Steady Eddie of sorts, with enhancements rolling out one after another. The last one, however, threw Microsoft Outlook users for a loop.
Google June 9 released Google Apps Sync for Microsoft Outlook, a synchronization tool that lets Outlook users access their Google Apps e-mail, contacts and calendar through Outlook. Within a week, Microsoft found flaws in the Google Apps Sync tool, including the breakdown of Windows Desktop Search when users install the plug-in. Google has been working on fixes since then.
eWEEK caught up via phone June 23 with Google Apps Senior Product Manager Rajen Sheth, who was in Boston to speak on a cloud computing panel at the Enterprise 2.0 show.
Sheth discussed the Outlook sync problem and the cloud, which for Google consists of hosting software on the Internet and delivering applications to users as an alternative to on-premises applications customers host internally. Sheth also answered the question of whether or not Google will get into enterprise applications.
What was top of mind for you at the Enterprise2.0 show regarding cloud computing?
I’ve been at shows like this the last couple of years. It feels a lot more real now than in the past. Two years ago, people were thinking of the cloud concept. Last year, people were kicking around products that are out there. Now people are very serious about it and are considering moving major parts of their infrastructure into the cloud. It was also interesting to see the mix of vendors versus customers, that there were more and more customers actually here that are looking into how to adopt this for their corporation.
It has to do with the maturity of the products out there, and the maturity of the concept. People are taking it more as something that has real solid value instead of something for the future. Though I still think people are struggling to get their head around what the cloud is because there is everything from putting infrastructure into the cloud, to application platforms, to full-on applications.
That’s what I tried to cover in my pitch: How do you distinguish the various parts of the cloud and how do you think of them? There is this false notion with some corporations that the cloud is about just infrastructure and virtualizing what you have right now and putting it up in someone’s infrastructure. There are advantages to that, but they’re not as great as when you go further up in the stack, when you start to develop code and deploy it into something like Google App Engine, where you don’t have to worry about deploying and clustering a database.
Sheth Says No Enterprise Apps Imminent
IBM and Microsoft have been battling in the on-premises collaboration space for years. The two have cultivated a great fear and loathing; they want to create the notion that having the other suite is a terrible choice. Are we going to have that same competitive dynamic in cloud computing?
I think it’s going to be different. I think it has to be different, honestly, because I don’t think we’re going to be in a situation where everyone is going to run everything in one cloud. Quite frankly, every vendor has a different take on things. For example, we’re never going to be as good at CRM as Salesforce.com. A lot of their platform is oriented around how you build business applications centered around CRM. We need to interoperate with them. We’re going to be much, much stronger at collaboration than a lot of other vendors that are out there.
There are people out there doing great things around cloud infrastructure, for example, what Amazon is doing with EC2 [Amazon Elastic Compute Cloud]. We’re not the only vendors that customers are looking at. Customers are looking at us for collaboration and hosting apps on App Engine, but they’re also looking at using Amazon for hosting their database and other applications. These customers will also continue to use a significant [number] of apps behind the firewall. So all of those environments need to interoperate. We put [in] a lot of effort to make sure we can interoperate with other clouds and interoperate with behind-the-firewall environments.
Interoperability is a good segue for a discussion about the Google Apps Sync for Microsoft Outlook tool, but I’ll come back to that. I want to go back to where you said, “We’re never going to be as good at CRMas Salesforce.com.” Last time I checked with Google, Google had no plans to get into enterprise applications. Of course, Google Apps is now deeply integrated with Salesforce.com. Has Google definitely decided that it’s not going to offer enterprise applications?
Well, maybe “never” is stating it too strongly. Who can really tell what the future is going to bring? But I think there is definitely an aspect of the DNA of each of the corporations. Our strong suit is in wisely applicable, user-facing applications that manage information. It’s not in particular business application areas. Never is a strong statement, but what is definitely true is you’ll more likely see us innovate in the areas of collaboration and information management than you’ll see us innovate in specialized business applications, which is Salesforce.com’s DNA. You’ll have a lot of customers using both platforms.
Circling back, Google Apps recently embarked on an effort to create an interoperability bridge between Google Apps’ Gmail, Calendar and contacts with the Google Apps Sync for Microsoft Outlook synchronization plug-in. It didn’t go so well. I realize there are steps under way at both Google and Microsoft to improve the interoperability between Google and the Microsoft plug-ins. Where is Google at with that bridge?
A: I actually think it’s going very well. We talk to customers about it every day. Interoperability is something that is going to be really, really key for us. It is particularly tough to do. It is not easy to be 100 percent interoperable with everything within an enterprise environment. We’ve seen a lot of success with the Outlook plug-in we released a couple weeks ago, both in terms of testing with corporations before we released it, as well as people that have adopted it since we released it.
Sheth: Outlook Integration Is Going Well Despite Snafu
There are definitely small issues with particular plug-ins, but what we focused on with this first version was, How do we make sure the mail, contact and calendar experience is up to snuff with what people are used to with Outlook? I think it has been a significant increase in functionality from what people were used to before. I think what you’ll find with Google is we will release something early and continue to iterate and continue to make that integration better over time, such that it fills the cracks that exist right now. Right now, it’s been a significant advancement for us and removed a lot of blockers in customer deals.
So the Google Apps Sync for Microsoft Outlook plug-in will still break Windows Desktop Search?
It’s still an issue for that tool right now. Outlook search works as [it] is built in right now, and there are particular plug-ins that don’t right now and we’re working on fixing those. The main functionality, which is how users read and manage their mail using Outlook, how they do full calendaring, look people up in global address books and how they maintain their own contacts-the tool covers those core mail, calendar and contacts experience very well.
Is this the biggest challenge in trying to bridge the gap between the cloud-based architecture Google Apps is written on and Microsoft’s Windows, which was created for on-premises scenarios?
The biggest thing is that we’re integrating into an environment that people have extended over time. There are things that you can attack off the bat and things that you’ll have to incrementally get to over time. We ask a lot of our customers about this, asking them what would make them switch to Google Apps with Outlook on top of it. It keeps coming back to mail, calendar and contacts. If we can nail that in terms of how people use that in their workflow, that will be enough to get people over the blocker.
I was surprised to read Microsoft’s Outlook team admitting that it was working with Google on this fix. I don’t get it. It boggles my mind that Microsoft would work with Google on a product aimed at taking customers from the Outlook user base. How does that work?
It’s definitely in both of our interests to make this work. There are a lot of users out there that like Outlook, and we want to be able to embrace that rather than reject it. One of the things we’re seeing in one of the corporations we’re deploying into is that a majority of users, once they start using Gmail, love it. They love the Web-based interface.
But there are a set of users that have been using Outlook for 10, 15 years and they don’t want to change. That vocal minority can sink the deployment for everybody. So it’s in our best interests to make all of the users happy. And for Microsoft, it’s in their best interest to cater to the needs of what the customer wants to do with their tools.