Last week Google launched Cloud Connect a free plug-in for Microsoft Office that provides a number of cloud-based functionalities (such as collaboration sharing revision history and syncing) to users of Word Excel and PowerPoint. As Shan Sinha Google Apps Product Manager said on the Google Docs blog “there are still many people that are tied to desktop applications and haven’t experienced the numerous benefits cloud applications [bring]”.
The plug-in is available to users of Microsoft Office 2003 2007 and 2010 running on Windows XP Vista or Windows 7. (According to Google a Mac version is not available at this time due to a “lack of support for open APIs on Microsoft Office for Mac”.)
True to its slogan (“Teach your old docs new tricks”) the plug-in once installed enables users to sync Office documents to Google Docs without leaving their Office application. Once a supported Word Excel or PowerPoint file is uploaded and synced with Google Docs from within Office it is given a unique URL which can be shared with other users who are then able to collaborate on the document editing it in turns or simultaneously as they wish. Sharing of read-only versions is also supported.
In the event of an edit conflict between two separate users you are able to choose which set of edits to retain and edits made while a user is offline can be incorporated into documents when online access is restored. Revision history keeps track of every individual sync so you can roll back to an older version of a file if you choose to do so.
Edit conflicts can be resolved by users electing which set of changes to retain.
In essence Cloud Connect provides some pretty hefty competition to Microsoft’s own Office companion cloud platform Office Web Apps and one which directly (if invisibly) ties into the Google Docs ecosystem. It’ll be interesting to see how this development affects the productivity software sector as a whole – and whether its subtle beckoning of desktop Office users towards Google Docs’ online functionalities ultimately results in some Cloud Connect adopters actually abandoning Office. This could be one plug-in that eventually sees Microsoft users plugging out.