Google is turning up the heat in its efforts to woo more Microsoft shops to try its cloud-based Google Apps suite.
On Thursday, the search giant announced the end of what had been a limited public preview of its Google Cloud Connect for Microsoft Office, making the finished version now broadly available. Google (NASDAQ: GOOG) also unveiled Appsperience, a new program designed to make it easier for enterprises to try out the collaboration features in Google Apps and compatibility with Office.
The Appsperience program includes tech support and set-up assistance from authorized Google Apps resellers.
Cloud Connect first became available in a test version last November. It’s based on technology the company acquired as part of its purchase of DocVerse, a startup created by two former Microsoft (NASDAQ: MSFT) product managers. Cloud Connect is designed to help users of Word, PowerPoint and Excel move to Google Docs by giving them the same Office interface with the added collaborative features that Docs offers.
“What we’re really looking to do with this launch is position Google Apps as the best collaboration tool for companies that enables them to work with tools designed for today’s connected workers,” Google Apps Product Manager Shan Sinha told InternetNews.com.
“The key thing here is that the combination of Google Apps with Cloud Connect brings collaboration to everyone in the organization,” Sinha added. “You get features like the ability to simultaneously edit Word and Excel documents online …. Microsoft made a number of promises with its 2010 stack, but they really didn’t deliver well on a true cloud collaboration environment.”
Sinha said Cloud Connect supports collaborative features for Office 2003, 2007 and 2010, whereas Microsoft’s own cloud offering, Office 365, requires an upgrade to Office 2010 to get group editing collaborative features. Google also said its “smart synchronization” feature updates offline edits as soon as the user gets back online.
Google claims Cloud Connect takes only 30 seconds to install and five seconds to configure. But with many Microsoft shops new to cloud computing and perhaps Google Apps in general, Google is launching Appsperience to smooth the way.
Appsperience offers 90-days of unlimited Google Apps collaboration and hands-on support from Google’s reseller partners. Google is also introducing a new collaboration dashboard in the Google Apps for Business and Education control panel that provides aggregated activity metrics to administrators.
The collaboration dashboard lets managers and administrators see, for example, how many people collaborated on a document.
“When you can see that say 6.3 people are contributing to the average file, how many cycles of attachments does that save?” Jeremy Milo, product marketing manager for Google Apps, told InternetNews.com. “And the other benefit is that employees won’t lose track of what version of a document they’re on or use one that’s not reconciled. We think these are the kinds of insights that will give businesses a granular way to recognize the value of using Google Apps.”
The Google Appsperience
The three-month preview period Google is offering with Appsperience includes unlimited use of Google Docs, Cloud Connect, Sites, Video and additional features as well as authorized support from Google experts. The cost is a flat $7,000 for companies with fewer than 500 employees, and $15,000 for companies with more than 500 employees.
Milo said Google’s support partners keep all of the fee and the standard 20 percent commission going forward if the customer decides to pay to keep using Cloud Connect and Google Apps beyond the 90-days of the Appsperience program.
Sinha said the preview program helped Google work out kinks in Cloud Connect and respond to user feedback. “We had great response with 4,000 companies signing up in the first four hours,” he said. “We had to shut it off after we got to 15,000 companies.”