Google, Microsoft trade more blows over Docs, Office 2010

Google plays proprietary format card, Microsoft says rival doesn't understand the enterprise

The war of words between Microsoft and Google over Office 2010 and its entry into online, cloud-based applications heated up today as both companies again took shots at each other.

One analyst said Microsoft was publicly arguing with Google both to preserve its current position and its future in the enterprise application and collaboration markets.

Yesterday, a Microsoft executive hammered Google for a Tuesday sales pitch that urged Office users to put off upgrading to Office 2010 and instead add Google Docs as an online complement to older versions of the suite leader.

Calling Google's claims "simply not true," Alex Payne, director of Microsoft's online product management team, countered a Google director's pitch that Google Docs, the search company's online application suite, "makes Office 2003 and 2007 better."

Today, the companies traded new blows.

"It says a lot about Microsoft's approach to customer lock-in that the company touts its proprietary document formats, which only Microsoft software can render with true fidelity, as the reason to avoid using other products," Google said in a statement e-mailed to Computerworld by a company spokesman.

Google was talking about Payne's argument Tuesday that only Office 2010 and its accompanying Office Web Apps online components were able to handle so-called "round-tripping" -- a phrase that describes moving a document from Office on the desktop to an online app, then back again -- without losing important document formatting or content.

"We've made a lot of progress with our new editors to improve the experience importing Office documents into Google Docs, and there's more to come soon," promised Google, referring to its plans to integrate technologies from DocVerse, a maker of Office plug-ins for online, real-time collaboration. Google acquired DocVerse in early March.

Microsoft didn't take Google's counterpunch without swinging back.

"This is about how Google has chosen to implement features, not file formats," argued Payne in a e-mail today. "Microsoft supports multiple ISO standards for file formats, and they are fully and openly documented, [but] Google simply chooses not to implement certain features, which results in poor document fidelity."

Yesterday, Payne said Microsoft's Office Web Apps have what he called "high fidelity" when documents are moved from the desktop to online, and back.

"This underscores that they do not understand the needs of businesses and cannot deliver on their claim that Google Docs make Office better," Payne concluded today.

"Microsoft's concerned that if an Office alternative like Google Docs could get a critical mass in some companies, then those companies would no longer license Office across the board for all workers," said Rob Helm, an analyst with research firm Directions on Microsoft. "Companies might be more likely to tactically deploy Office only to some users."

Even more important than today's bottom line, Helm said, is Microsoft's future, which increasingly hinges on SharePoint, the server-based software that he called the company's "hub for its entire collaboration effort."

SharePoint last quarter posted a 30% increase in revenues, climbing to account for $1.3 billion of Microsoft's sales, and is key to the future of Office, said Helm. "Microsoft's doing this to protect SharePoint's position," he said. "It wants to make it clear that it has the collaboration solution for the enterprise, not Google."

Like most analysts, Helm believes that Google has a hard row to hoe.

"All I can say [to Google] is 'good luck,'" said Helm. "Google is just the latest pretender to the Office throne. IBM has been chasing Office for years with Lotus, OpenOffice has as well. Office is very hard nut to crack."

Gregg Keizer covers Microsoft, security issues, Apple, Web browsers and general technology breaking news for Computerworld . Follow Gregg on Twitter at @gkeizer or subscribe to Gregg's RSS feed . His e-mail address is gkeizer@ix.netcom.com .

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