Google is bringing the cloud to office productivity tools --
's Office tools, that is. On Thursday, the search giant announced that it's releasing Google Cloud Connect for Office, which was initially shown as a preview last fall.
The company said that, with a free plug-in, Cloud Connect for Office "brings collaborative multi-person editing to the family Microsoft Office experience." It enables users to share, backup and simultaneously edit Word, PowerPoint and Excel documents.
No SharePoint deployment is required, and Connect supports Office 2003, 2007 and 2010 on Windows PCs. Office 2010 offers collaboration, but Google Connect gives that capability to earlier releases of the popular productivity suite. Google noted that, "due to the lack of support for open APIs on Microsoft Office for Mac," Connect is not currently available for that platform.
Office files are synced via the cloud and given a unique URL. Once they are synced, files are automatically backed up. Files can be worked on from connected devices as well as desktop or laptop computers.
When documents are shared, participants get a notification e-mail. Shared documents get downloaded from the cloud and edited in the app normally. When working offline, changes are synced to all participants the next time they log in. If two or more participants edit the same section simultaneously, Cloud Connect for Office provides paths for choosing which edits to keep.
Editing is simultaneous, with no document or paragraph locking while one person is working. Each Office file has a URL that is shared in Google Docs, and Docs retains a version history. Documents can be edited offline, and can be brought up to speed with online docs via "smart synchronization."
A potentially big advantage of the plug-in approach is that, instead of importing and exporting Office docs to Google Docs, which can result in formatting or other issues, the plug-in enables users to stay within Office.
While the plug-in is free, there's a cost of $50 per user per year for the Connect service, plus the user must have the necessary Office license. There's also a new Appsperience program which offers a 90-day trial period with Google Apps and support. Google Apps includes Cloud Connect for Office, Google Spreadsheets, Google Sites, Google Docs, Google Presentations, and Google Forms.
Prices for Appsperience range from $7,000 for 50 to 500 users, to $15,000 for more than 500 users. The offer includes user training, change management assistance, a week of tech support, and a dashboard to analyze return on investment from the collaboration.
The technology behind Connect was obtained as part of Google's acquisition of DocVerse in March 2009. When Google bought DocVerse, Group Product Manager Jonathan Rochelle wrote on the Office Google Enterprise Blog that "the future of productivity applications is in the cloud." He acknowledged that "many people are still accustomed to desktop software," so Google's approach makes it easier to "interoperate with desktop applications like Microsoft Office."