Next month, Microsoft will release Office 2010 into an IT world that Google has been reshaping as use of its Google Apps services spread to places like the City of Los Angeles and Genentech.
With the release of Office 2010 on May 12, Microsoft will complete an effort to move its long portfolio of applications to the Cloud, offering its business and government customers a new way to deliver services to users.
But while Microsoft maintains oceans of customers who heavily use its Office suite of products, its mindshare is clearly under siege because of Google Apps.
Google moved early to make this a contest over which firm offers the best contract terms and legal protections in cloud environments. The city of Los Angeles, which may be Google's marquee government user, has been frank in disclosing details of its agreement. By the end of June, Los Angeles expects to complete a transition of some 30,000 employees to Google Apps.
In one sense, Kevin Crawford, Los Angeles assistant director of IT, is Google's de facto public sector evangelist. He doesn't market Google directly, but he answers questions from many other local government and state officials who want specifics about the city's deal with Google.
For instance, at the SaaScon conference on cloud computing and software-as-a-service here this week, Crawford has been peppered with questions about the contract terms.
Los Angeles has been frank about the contract, which includes unlimited damages for a data breach, the right to audit, guarantees that the data remain in the contiguous 48 states, and penalties if Google's services are unavailable for anytime longer than five minutes a month.
The contract also gives the city the right to cancel its contract with Google "for convenience," Crawford said.
Contract terms aside, Tim O'Brien, the senior director of the platform strategy group at Microsoft, believes that his firm has an advantage in the cloud business due to its experience in the enterprise market.
"We know a lot more than potentially any vendor in the industry about the types of questions (business customers) have because we have been through the enterprise software discussion before," O'Brien said in an interview here.
O'Brien argues that Microsoft's 15-years of experience with cloud-based services, which began with its acquisition of Hotmail in 1998, gives it particular strength in this environment.
Google's DNA, is "primarily consumer Web" and says that its agreement with Los Angeles to allow a quick migration to another provider may not consider problems associated with such a move and switching cost involved, said O'Brien.
A major issue in cloud services is having the ability to avoid vendor lock-in by having application and data portability. There are no standards in this industry for accomplishing that and O'Brien doesn't see agreements for them arriving quickly.
"There isn't one single center of gravity for cloud standards in the industry today," said O'Brien, who nonetheless says that Microsoft wants portability "because it levels the playing the field with vendors."
Genentech, a San Francisco-based biotechnology company, adopted Google Apps in 2007 for its 16,000 corporate users but gave its user the option of using Google Docs. About 8,000 now use Docs.
The company's IT approach is give its users choices where possible said Todd Pierce, senior vice president of IT at Genentech. "People will choose things that will really work for them," he said.
Patrick Thibodeau covers SaaS and enterprise applications, outsourcing, government IT policies, data centers and IT workforce issues for Computerworld . Follow Patrick on Twitter at @DCgov , or subscribe to Patrick's RSS feed? . His e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org .
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