Google is trying to crack into Microsoft's dominance of productivity programs for office and home use. Microsoft Office consists of Word, Excel, PowerPoint, and perhaps a few other programs, depending upon which version of Microsoft Office you purchase. Microsoft Office is horribly over-priced (in my opinion) and generates huge profits for Microsoft. The company adds new features of questionable value every 2 or 3 years in an attempt to "roll the customer base," convincing customers they really need to upgrade to the latest version and thereby generate still more profits. Of course, Microsoft isn't the only company to use such tactics.
Actually, I prefer ZoHo Docs over Google Docs, but that is another story for another article, to be supplied later.
Google Docs and ZoHo Docs do have one huge advantage over past versions of Microsoft Office, however. The default setting of Google Docs and ZoHo Docs is to store all documents online in a password-protected area that is visible only to the one person using the online programs. The user does have an option to share documents with a few others via password protection or by making any document(s) available to everyone on the World Wide Web by removing the requirement for a password. This is a great advantage when collaborating with someone else or for other sharing purposes, especially with small groups.
For instance, when one of us is traveling, Pam (the editor of this newsletter) and I often use Google Docs when we are working on new articles. I might write an article, place it on Google Docs, and give access to Pam and not to anyone else. She then logs onto Google Docs and performs her editing magic. I can immediately see her edits, perhaps make a few more changes, and ask her to verify my updates. We do this back and forth, even when we are many miles apart, often in different time zones.
We find that online storage saves a lot of time and especially saves confusion when compared to our old method of sending files back and forth via email. The more changes made, the bigger the advantage. There is never any question of "which version is she talking about?" or any problem when we both want to edit the same document at the same time. That's important when two people are working on one document, but it becomes even more important when three, four, or more people are involved. The more people involved, the harder it is to swap files by email and keep everyone synchronized at all times. With documents stored in the cloud, the current version is always available to everyone at any time.
This works well whether two or more people are collaborating on a newsletter article, a genealogy research project, or even a full-length novel. I know companies that use Google Docs for submission of expense reports, especially when the employee is remote from the office. The employee fills out a spreadsheet on Google Docs, using a pre-defined template. The manager reviews it, suggests changes as needed, and sends it back to the employee, as needed. Once the two agree on a final version, the manager adds his or her approval and forwards it on to Accounts Payable for reimbursement. This saves paper, postage, and employee frustration with the length of time required to get reimbursed.
Online applications and cloud storage give users the advantage of documents available on the go, on a PC, smartphone, or any browser, whenever and wherever they are needed. This creates a true "virtual office." Another advantage is that the documents are always backed up when stored online in a professionally managed data center. A hard drive crash will not wipe out months or years of work. Of course, I always keep additional backup copies on my own hard drive for "just in case" purposes.
The online advantage is huge, and Microsoft has not ignored it. However, Microsoft has been slow to add online, or "cloud," storage to its Office suite of programs. Their recently announced “next generation in cloud productivity,” Microsoft Office 365, does add online storage, but it is not yet widely used. Microsoft has announced that future Office products will be able to read and write documents "in the cloud," but most of the promises have yet to be delivered.
Google has now jumped in and added the functionality that Microsoft has not yet been able to deliver. Google Cloud Connect for Microsoft Office is now available in beta for early testers.
With Google Cloud Connect, anyone can continue to use their already-installed copy of Microsoft Office, including the familiar Office interface, while reaping many of the benefits of web-based collaboration that Google Docs users already enjoy.
Users of Office 2003, 2007 and 2010 can sync their Office documents to the Google cloud without ever leaving Office. Google saves each document online in a secure area and gives it a unique URL. After that, everyone authorized to work on the document can access it from anywhere (including mobile devices) at any time through Google Docs. And because the files are stored in the cloud, everyone involved always has access to the current version. A full revision history is kept as the files are edited, and users can revert to earlier versions in one click. These are all features that Google Docs users already enjoy today, and now Google extends them to Microsoft Office users.
While it is an obvious choice for online collaboration with others, there are several advantages for the person working alone. For one, documents are available at any time from any location. All you need is a PC or Mac or tablet computer or smartphone, along with an Internet connection. That is very handy for those who travel frequently. Another advantage is that all documents are automatically backed up without any involvement from the user. A hard drive crash or other hardware problem will not cause data loss. A final advantage of cloud storage is the storage of revisions. Unlike normal Microsoft Office, the online providers keep a copy of every version of a file for a few weeks or months. If you suddenly find that you have horribly messed up a document that you have been working on for weeks, you can quickly revert back to yesterday's version or last week's version if you use Google Docs. You cannot do that with normal Microsoft Office unless you use separate procedures to make backups of all the versions.
There are disadvantages, however. Unlike Google Docs, users of Microsoft Office and Google Cloud Connect cannot directly edit files that are stored online. Instead, Google Cloud Connect provides a super simple method of retrieving a file from Google Docs and temporarily storing it on the local hard drive. The user can then edit the file by using Microsoft Office. When completed, the file is then automatically copied back to Google Docs. Two users cannot edit one file simultaneously. Google Cloud Connect only allows just one user to make edits at a time. The process is based on a simple "check out" methodology. When one user downloads the file with Google Cloud Connect, the software flags the online copy of the file as "checked out." Anyone else who tries to access the online copy receives a message of "file unavailable because it is checked out" or some similar wording. Once the completed file is copied back to Google Docs, the unavailable flag is removed, and other users are free to access it.
In contrast, with the normal version of Google Docs, if other people are editing a document at the same time you are editing or adding to the file, you'll see their edits in real time.
Google Cloud Connect is available free of charge. However, access is limited in order to keep the servers from being overwhelmed during beta test. Google Cloud Connect is available only for Windows systems at this time.
If you would like to experiment with the beta test version of Google Cloud Connect, you need to fill out an online form requesting access. You will then be notified when Google Cloud Connect becomes available for your use. Applications will be handled in a first-in/first-out basis. You can find the application form at http://goo.gl/ZT32W