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With Rewrite, Google Docs Takes Microsoft Office Head On

Google's strategy marks a huge bet on real-time collaboration and online-only software.

It Starts With E-mail

Motorola's Mobile Devices unit tells an oft-told Google Docs tale: Start with Google e-mail, leave Office in place along with Docs, and watch Docs get tapped for collaboration.

The Motorola unit, which will become a separate company next year, has 15,000 Google Apps users. "We don't have any plans to uninstall Office in the future," says Jason Ruger, senior director of IT strategy. "We have found they actually work seamlessly together." (Motorola is a close partner with Google, whose Android mobile operating system runs Motorola's Droid phones.)

MMD employees often work in Excel and import work into Google Spreadsheets for sharing and collaboration. Having a single, authoritative document that everyone can rely on rather than 15 versions spread across different services is huge, says Ruger. "We've seen an explosion of benefit from the collaboration side," he says.

Motorola's global footprint also shows why not having offline capabilities will turn off more than top execs. Noting that employees often spent 24 hours on flights from the Midwest to Asia, Walt Oswald, MMD's VP of IT, calls offline functionality "an absolute must-have."

Canadian luxury hotel management company Delta Hotels & Resorts signed up for Google Apps early last year for one reason: a lower price than it had for Exchange. "Make no bones about it, $50 per user per year is bargain basement from our perspective," says Michael Rodger, the company's director of digital innovation.

In March, after six weeks of testing, Delta rolled out the Google service to 2,500 employees. Now it's up to about 4,500, as Rodger extended e-mail to everyone in the company because the price was so low and it wanted to "foster a sense of community" across its hotels.

Prior to the Google rollout, which included its word processing and spreadsheets, Delta's IT was "kind of a black hole," Rodger says. "You come to work and are given a Windows workstation that's locked down to the nth degree, and you're using tools that haven't been updated in quite a while." Now, the constant addition of features is energizing.

Delta employees are using Google Docs to store files so they can work on them at work, home, or on the road. Some are re-creating Excel files as Google spreadsheets for regional budgeting and reporting in hotels.

Office is still the standard on nearly all employee PCs. But Delta recently deployed some PCs without Office--the front-desk terminals at hotels. "Our property management system is all Web-based, and now our communication system is all Web-based," Rodger says. "There's really no need to put an Office client onto that workstation."

chart: Reasons To Switch -- What would make your company consider switching to, or increasing use of, Web-based productivity tools?

The situation at PicScout, a company based in Israel with offices in Silicon Valley, shows that if Microsoft makes online sharing easy, it could steal a lot of the reason to use Docs. The 50-person company, which makes technology to help photographers track pictures online, has been using Office and other Microsoft products for the seven years it has been in business and just recently began using Google Apps for collaboration.

It was a decision, says CEO and co-founder Offir Gutelzon, driven by the need to work more effectively with its Silicon Valley employees. "We're still massively using Office," he says. "But when we want to share, we're sharing on Google Docs." Gutelzon expects a mixed environment for a while. People are emotional about the IT tools they use, he says, and it's hard not to worry about Google going offline for some extended period, taking all your data with it.

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