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Google Apps Refresh Sets Up Deathmatch With Microsoft

Until now, most customers of Microsoft Office had a variety of good reasons to stick with the status quo, steering clear of Google Apps unless they needed it for a bargaining chip when negotiating with Microsoft. But, between Monday's launch of the new versions of Google Documents and Google Spreadsheets and Google's forthcoming plans for the recently acquired DocVerse, Google Apps should no longer be just a bargaining tool.

With new versions of Microsoft Office and SharePoint Server set for release next month and a potentially expensive upgrade cycle about to begin for many Microsoft customers, the new version of Google Apps has not only changed the rules on what is meant by "document collaboration," it has ameliorated one of the primary sticking points for many Microsoft customers considering a switch: limited interoperability with Office documents.

Make no mistake about it. Google is going for Microsoft's jugular. The deathmatch is on and, at the very least, it's for bragging rights to what we at InformationWeekare calling the "collaborative backbone." It becomes a battle that's less about Google Docs versus Microsoft Office and much more about the collaborative infrastructure behind Google Apps versus Microsoft's SharePoint and Exchange.

Given the ubiquity of Microsoft Office in the business world, switching to Google Apps for working on word processing documents, spreadsheets, and/or slide shows (presentations) has been daunting if not impossible. The problem had to do with what many call "document fidelity." Creating new nicely formatted documents in Google Documents, Spreadsheets, or Presentations wasn't the problem -- but lack of interoperation with existing documents created with Microsoft Office was.

There were major limitations to the way Google Apps worked with an organization's legacy documents or documents coming from outside the organization (partner, customer, etc.) in one of Microsoft's Office formats. Especially if those documents included complicated formatting.

In a before/after video demonstration given to me by Google Documents associate product manager Jeff Harris, it's easy to see how a résumé (a document with relatively complicated fidelity) lost all of its formatting after being imported into the old Google Documents. It's not hard to imagine how such lack of interoperability with de facto standard file formats was a deal breaker for many organizations. As recently as two weeks ago, Microsoft officials were making hay out of the fidelity issue.

You can see where this is going. Not only should power users of Office be able to work with each other, using Google Apps as their collaborative backbone, power users of Office should be able to collaborate much more easily with pure Google Apps users.

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