With three weeks’ notice and no future date given, Google has mothballed the feature (offline for docs via Google Gears) that one of their largest customers called "an absolute must-have". It’s ironic that when this feature was originally announced, the company touted “It’s NOT an April Fool’s Joke”. However, on May 4th as any Google Apps customer boards an airplane s/he might retort it’s actually a cruel joke. Even SalesForce.com, the self professed SaaS pioneer, whose motto is “No Software”, is shrewd enough to provide an offline client.
Given that 75% of the world’s population does not have an internet connection and last year over 760 Million passengers boarded a flight in the U.S. alone, does Google really believe no offline is the future of productivity and collaboration?
Offline as a Novelty
Despite Google’s marketing claims, the offline scenarios were really just a novelty act. As the chart below* exhibits, the experience was more hype than help. If you wanted to create a new document while offline, just follow Google’s prescriptive advice: “open a few blank files before you go offline”. Huh? Create a new calendar entry? Not so fast.
The Promise of HTML5
Google is apparently scrapping the current version of Docs & Spreadsheets for a HTML5 based version. However despite the promise of HTML5, it doesn’t solve the basic principles of software design. Regardless of the run-time environment, software still requires a sophisticated set of steps to carry out commands. That’s why for example, when you severed the web connection to Google Spreadsheets, you lost access to the calculation engine itself. No calc engine, no spreadsheet.
IE9 and our recent support for one video codec should put any arguments to rest about the future of HTML5. It’s just ironic that Google is selling customers on a vision of ‘good enough’ productivity software only to turn around and build on a platform that clearly aims to add more features than ‘good enough’. And especially one that will require reluctant IT Pros to install untested or non-preferred browsers into IT corporate landscapes OR buy a solution from the Google Marketplace. Wasn’t this all about not installing bits or spending more money?
The other question to ask Google is when? The promise of the future without a roadmap of when it’s coming leaves customers who want offline scratching their heads and frustrated since they can’t get real work done in the foreseeable future.
Microsoft: “What’s your offline story????”
I actually had a customer once challenge me with that question. My response, “Microsoft Office”. Oh yeah was his response. But it’s more than just our rich client apps, which still outdo any browser based approach on both performance and features. (Ever try to scroll down through a big spreadsheet via Google’s browser app? lag à scroll, lag à scroll. All those calls back to the server to fetch those extra cells can take time.) Our approach for PC, Phone and Browser takes into account synchronous and asynchronous work for everyone.
An internet connection shouldn’t be an ultimatum for people trying to get their work done.
Offline as a robust set of features
In Office 2010, Groove has been renamed as SharePoint Workspace. But it’s more than a renaming as the product now enables a user to take full SharePoint list types, including: Discussion, Announcements, Links, and custom lists offline. Even workflow’s can be taken offline so that every time you sync it will correctly trigger any workflows which are idle and listening to activity.
And the Business Connectivity Services (BCS) allow LOB application data to be pulled offline rounding out a full offline scenario. Combine that with the support for InfoPath forms right inside of Outlook and SharePoint Workspace and you can work with all your data and applications whether you are always, occasionally or almost never connected. It’s all about customer choice. Check out the video on building composite applications with SharePoint if you want to see no-code and offline done right.
Offline at some point becomes Online
A key question for Google will be how their future release will factor in synchronizing changes made while a user is offline. In the current (old) version, they sort of scrapped those changes in preference for changes made by others online. We handle this with a robust set of merging technologies to allow everyone to be on the same page. We clearly differ also in the level of control a user has when sharing any file. If you want to share with others but prescriptively keep their changes down to a specific workbook, sheet, cell (Excel) or particular document, paragraph, sentence (Word) we can do that.
Google on the other is pretty much all or nothing sharing. With their offering you have to ask other users to promise not to mess anything up. Now no matter what you do, you certainly can’t “open a few blank files before you go offline” as they just pulled the plug on that. My recommendation, take a look at Office, Exchange and SharePoint 2010. You won’t have to cross your fingers when you want to go offline that your applications and productivity will follow you. . . .
* I created this chart from various Google user/IT Admin help files.