Google has started to test with a limited number of Microsoft Office users a plug-in that lets them share and collaboratively edit their documents by storing them on Google's cloud infrastructure.
Google got the technology for the plug-in through its acquisition of DocVerse in March of this year. The product, expected to be available to all Google users next year, has been renamed Google Cloud Connect.
The plug-in works with Office 2003, Office 2007 and Office 2010. Once a document is stored in Google servers, multiple fellow Office users can simultaneously access and edit it from within the Office interface.
Cloud Connect keeps track of all changes and allows users to revert edits. It also displays alerts if the same portion of a document was changed in different ways by more than one user, offering them the option of favoring one edit over the other.
From their PC and mobile browsers, even users who don't have Office can access and view, but not edit, documents, which are given a unique URL and added to the Google Docs account of their author.
For years, Google has allowed users to import Microsoft Office documents into its Docs hosted productivity suite to collaborate on them, and then export them back to Office. However, the Office-Docs process to import, export or convert files can foul up document formatting settings.
Those problems are avoided with this plug-in because users are working on the documents using the Office software, not Docs, said Jonathan Rochelle, a Google Docs group product manager.
The free plug-in will be available to users in the consumer market through their Google account, as well as to workplace users through the Google Apps hosted collaboration and communication suite.
Of course, Google would prefer that people ditch Office altogether and opt for Docs, but for users and organisations that stick with Office, this plug-in offers some benefits of cloud collaboration within a desktop product, he said.
"This introduces a layer of storage. It doesn't change the nature of the [Office] product," Rochelle said.
In addition, Microsoft is pushing Office 2010's group collaboration capabilities as it prompts customers to upgrade from the 2003 and 2007 versions, but Google Cloud Connect fills that cloud collaboration gap in the older versions, he said.
"We're at a bit of an inflection point with the 2010 upgrade," he said. "The only benefit with Office 2010 is the capability for collaboration. You don't need to upgrade."
Microsoft evidently would disagree with that statement, but it highlights the intensity of the competition in the enterprise collaboration and communication market as the cloud model for software delivery keeps gaining steam.
Microsoft, which critics consider has been slow in integrating cloud options for its software, offers Office Web Apps, a hosted companion to the on-premise suite.
Next year, it plans to release Office 365, which adds Web Apps and in some cases the full Office suite to its Business Productivity Online Suite (BPOS), which currently includes hosted versions of Exchange, SharePoint and Lync.