When you ask programmers who left Microsoft for Google, they will often say Microsoft lacks native Web speakers. Google would have you think that it symbolizes cloud computing par excellence, while Microsoft is plodding.
To challenge the prevailing sentiment, Microsoft recently announced its Azure Services Platform cloud-based Windows strategy at PDC (Professional Developers Conference), but it won't appear until 2009. One wonders what this will mean for foes such as Google and Salesforce.com.
Microsoft is also launching its previously beta SAAS Exchange Online and SharePoint Online suites from beta Monday, Nov. 17; it will be fascinating to see how well Microsoft does with those solutions versus Google Apps.
Google and Microsoft have blind spots when it comes to cloud computing that can stunt their success for productivity and collaboration apps in business environments. In short, Google has some holes to fill while Microsoft is pretty late to the table.
Google, which just snared Serena Software from Microsoft to be a Gmail customer, believes that everything should be Web service-based.
Google believes Microsoft Exchange and Outlook are outdated. At the Google-T-Mobile launch of the Android-based G1 smart phone, Google's Andy Rubin said Google was building nothing to enable Exchange to run on the G1.
Yet Outlook has some 220 million paid seats. With that amazing footprint, one would think Google might come down from its cloud, so to speak, to embrace Outlook for the sake of peace among customers, but the company seems to want to wish it into the Twilight Zone's corn field. It is tired of document attachments. Say "Excel spreadsheet" to Googlers and watch their noses wrinkle.
Yet because there are so many Outlook users, some bridges to Outlook would make sense. Companies like Cemaphore Systems, which provides bidirectional synchronization between Exchange and Gmail, could succeed nicely as the gatekeepers to interoperability between traditional on-premises software and SAAS (software as a service).
Pull out a checklist of features comparing Gmail and Outlook, and enterprise experts will say Outlook will win, but I say the gap is narrowing.
Microsoft may have bested Google in calendar, task management and contact smarts, but Outlook doesn't let you do voice and video chat the way Gmail now does.
Another knock on Google's enterprise prowess is the issue of trust. Some businesses just can't cotton to the notion that their data at rest sits in Google's cloud because they are afraid Google will mine it and use it for other purposes.
Google should publish a security model that gives everyone in the corporate world a healthy dose of security. Microsoft already has the enterprise cred, so I see its path to building trust in the cloud as a little less rocky.
Another hole in Google Apps lies in mobile device support. A lack there will alienate corporate executives who believe smart phones have the potential to be a more important platform than the desktop for consumers and mobile workers.
Many enterprises make use of Research In Motion's BlackBerry, Motorola's Good Technology or Microsoft's ActiveSync. Until Google Apps supports all of those platforms, it will not be considered an enterprise software player. Google Maps support for BlackBerry devices is a nice gesture, but hardly fills the hole.
Even Exchange Online and SharePoint Online include BlackBerry device support for customers with more than 5,000 seats. Perhaps Google expects Android to be the de facto mobile platform for enterprises. But by when? 2011 or later?
Microsoft has chinks in its armor, too. A big one is being ever so late to the cloud computing atmosphere
Exchange Online and SharePoint Online, which has been at the public beta stage for companies with less than 5,000 seats, Nov. 17 will become available to businesses of all sizes after being offered first to businesses with more than 5,000 seats.
So while Microsoft was testing these SAAS solutions in the big shops, Google was chomping on share in the small and midsize business range, which is where the biggest business opportunities lie. Smart, real smart.
There are other questions surrounding Microsoft's untested cloud solutions. For example, will the company be able to scale to Google-esque heights?
Will Azure be another Vista debacle?
Lots of questions, too few answers.