The Realities of Google Cloud Connect

Google recently released Cloud Connect for Microsoft Office.  You might have heard some buzz.  When the Cloud Connect beta came out in November 2010, people expressed their frustration with the tool's ability to deal with the most straight forward tasks.  Now that it is available we’ve taken a look to provide Microsoft’s initial perspective on the released add-in.
Google has a noble outward goal to help improve productivity with Microsoft Office by enabling people to co-edit directly from Office Word, Excel, or PowerPoint.  No small task, we should know – we released similar capabilities with Office 2003 called Document Workspaces and Shared Workbooks, and Word 2002 Compare and Merge.



Office 2003 Shared Workbooks

Office 2002 Compare and Merge Document

What we know from over 25 years of building industry leading productivity tools is that our number one job is to make it easier and less time consuming for people to work together.  That is one of the primary drivers of our co-authoring capabilities in Office 2010, the creation of the Office Web Apps and our tight integration with Windows Live SkyDrive and Microsoft SharePoint.  One thing we have learned through years of working with both the industry’s largest companies as well as individuals is that our software must work in predictable and trustworthy ways.  This is why when we built our co-authoring capabilities for Office 2010, it was critically important to maintain the integrity of documents and content.  What does that mean?  It means that what gets created is maintained no matter which Office client you are using, Office 2010 on the desktop, the Web Apps in SkyDrive or SharePoint or on a Mobile device.  That should mean no rework, no lost data, no surprises or gotchas. 
From our initial look at Google’s Cloud Connect it is obvious we have very different takes on how to improve productivity. 
Let’s take a look at what we found:

As you can see from the demo above, the experience with Google Cloud Connect is problematic on several levels.

Loss of Data & Productivity
Working on documents becomes more complex because:

  • The basic process of setting a document up for sharing with Cloud Connect is a multi-step process and is not intuitive for most users.

  • Not all features or file types work with Cloud Connect.  As a result, it often leads to unexpected errors.

  • According to Google, Cloud Connect can impact the performance of your applications.

Simultaneous editing can easily lead to syncing errors and data loss.


Reduced Office Functionality

  • Users will have to sacrifice core Office functionality, such as Track Changes and conditional formatting, sort settings, table styles, slide transitions, sounds, print settings, just to name a few.  While these features may be considered overkill or too complex for Google, they are examples of the wide range of tasks Office users do everyday.

  • Google recommends turning off other Office add-ins (that could be from Microsoft or 3rd party applications) that according to Google can conflict, and this conflict could lead to “erratic behavior” of the add-in.  It may be me, but I don’t want “erratic behavior” when I’m working on critical business documents.  

Security and Privacy Concerns
The best attempt to reduce syncing errors with Cloud Connect is to set up the add-in for automatic syncing.  When automatic syncing is turned on, all Office files that are opened and saved are automatically synced with your Google Docs list which is stored on Google's servers.  Unless you change the default setting, anyone in your domain can find and access your document.  Imagine your HR professional opens an Excel document with salaries and social security numbers, makes a change and then saves.  Oops, unintended and unknown sharing to the rest of the organization.  This kind of approach to privacy and security are simply unacceptable to the majority of business users.  Perhaps more importantly, it begs the question, “Is Google’s heart really in the business market, or is it in advertising where 97% of its revenues come from?  If it’s the latter, that may explain why anyone who installs Cloud Connect will have all of their documents synched to Google’s cloud.  As Google creates more surface area to collect your personal data, individuals and businesses alike are beginning to question if and how that data is being used.

Google would like to provide “radical productivity gains”.  To do so, I believe people expect much more than Google has demonstrated in supporting enterprise customers.  Lost data and privacy are not bugs that you fix in later versions.  And, commitment to this space requires more than simply writing code for the browser.  If you had tried Cloud Connect add-in, tell us your own experience in below comments.

Comments (67)

  1. Anonymous says:

    Thanks for your comment. You are absolutely correct.  The  Google Admin does have control over the global sharing settings of documents.  What they do not have control over is how an individual end user shares information, nor the ability to control sensitive documents or audit access to sensitive documents or information.

    @Aaron:   Please see the post, Collaboration with Office Web Apps, Office 2010 (

  2. Anonymous says:

    @geoff: It's good to hear from you and learn how you use collaboration tools. Thank you.

  3. Anonymous says:

    Thanks for the comments. Many of you on this thread have voiced your own problems with Google Cloud Connect. Also check out Ars Technica's view on why Cloud Connect is not ready for prime time – Data loss is a huge issue with this plug-in. "Free" is not a reasonable excuse for shipping a poor product.  Unfortunately for Google, this is a known pattern for Google Apps. Users have to deal with the frustration and loss of productivity.  The Cost to you is REAL!

    @Doug: thanks for providing your company's experience. We have many customers that initially tried out Google Apps based solely on costs, and then realized the hidden costs – loss of data integrity with Google Docs, Gmail sync issues with Outlook, not to mention lack of support with Google.  Here is one of many examples of customers who came to Microsoft after trying Google –  If you are experiencing any challenges with Google, we would like to help make your job easier.

    Finally, many commented on wanting to see Microsoft's solution to this.  Look for my next posting on how we can help you share and collaborate in the cloud with tried and proven solutions.

  4. Thomas van Rool says:

    Wow! I didn't know Google Cloud Connect did so much. Thanks for the heads-up.

  5. Frank Miller says:

    First, thank you for doing this post.  Second, if you read the press around this software, it sounds all rosy when it looks like the reality is different.  That's the problem with IT press and their lack of substance unfortunately in their coverage. . .

  6. Ian Ray says:

    Our organization has been using Cloud Connect long before the public release but we were gagged on talking about Cloud Connect.

    The data loss problem is very real if you use manual sync. I found the hard way that for any document you really want to collaborate on, you have to set up automatic sync for that document. Otherwise, users can make the wrong choice easily. The most maddening thing is when the sync conflict comes up, the option to drop your changes is the default. Keep my changes should be default. I don't understand why the option to save your changes is not default as when you do that, two revisions are saved and it is simple to merge the two versions… two conflicting revisions are much better than losing one person's wor. I emailed google about this after we lost some powerpoint slides (easy to reproduce, thankfully) and they responded with instructions on automatic vs. manual sync as if they didn't understand what I meant.

    The statement that privacy is instantly breached with automatic mode is false. Anyone running google apps should have the default privacy setting as private so all these docs are only visible to the user who saved them. Aprigo cloud lock or similar should be used to ensure files aren't randomly exposed. Keeping social security numbers in an Excel spreadsheet is a ridiculous example. Anyone who does this is just asking for problems and a practice like this is way out of compliance with any modern privacy policy. Suggesting that Cloud Connect has a problem because users keep critical information unencrypted in an Excel doc is like blaming the bank after you write your pin number on your bank card and it is stolen.

    Best practice is to default to manual sync and not sync anything you don't need to back up, share, or collaborate on and then set automatic sync individually on collaborative documents. Google should state this explicitly. They have yet to do so.

    Problem is… Microsoft, where is your program that does anything close to this? Talking about merging Excel workbooks and Skydrive are features that we all know pale in comparison to the raw functionality of Cloud Connect. Come out with something better at a similar price. Seriously, do it, don't charge tens of thousands of dollars and then we can talk seriously about the minor issues comparing the two. Until then: thanks for the criticism, but I think I'll keep using the existing product.

  7. Kevin N says:

    Microsoft is threatened. What do you  have me to offer that is better than Google. Your right…you've been doing this for 25 years and Google has for 4….and they've already passed you for 95% of use-cases.

  8. Frank says:

    I was able to save a 10MB file and their docs say limit is 50 MB so not sure where the 5MB number you are quoting comes from..

  9. Google's stuff is a toy compared to Office, but the basics work and our CIO likes it. Google won't merge changes – one of many problems. Their support is bad.

    We've been using an app, Syncdocs to merge the changes from Google documents back into Word 2010. It works well, and also uploads the merged version back to the Google user automatically.

  10. carlitos says:

    My opinion: Microsoft has no ability to offer an effective solution to compete with these features, real-time collaboration with Google Cloud Connect is very easy to implement, just install the plugin, share the document, edit the document, and synchronization is performed automatically when saving the document.

  11. Bob Hyatt says:

    I'm no Microsoft fanboy by any means but I just tried installing this thing and while simple to get started, when I tried to do anything a little more complex than typing text, it got all out of sync.  Also, I didn't realize you couldn't convert the document and edit it in the browser and have this tool continue to work.  I guess I shouldn't complain when something is free but I think using a file share with Office is easier and has more functionality.

  12. John says:

    This post on 'Why' seems to be more about 'Why not Google Cloud Connect'. Good to hear, however, that someone at Microsoft has got the concept that an organisation can have a heart. At least they seem to be learning something from Google.

    Maybe it would be a more persuasive argument for Microsoft if there was actually some content that demonstrated 'Why'. How about a demonstration of the Microsoft product itself?

    Alternatively, why not demonstrate some free products Microsoft are offering to allow Google Apps users to benefit from After all, Google do seem to be constantly offering more and more free things to Microsoft customers. It only seems fair that Microsoft should think about following suit.

    Google is the 4th largest manufacturer of servers on the planet and its very existence and core competence is based on downloading and indexing the entire WWW aka 'the cloud'. Hard to see how their heart is not in it. Microsoft's existence, on the other hand, was based on taking everything out of clouds and putting it on PCs. It's hard to see where Microsoft's heart is these days, if indeed it has one.

    Microsoft has had some good products and still has a huge head start in this market. They should stick to building on what they have rather than picking fights that cannot be won.

  13. Eric says:

    I get enough marketing hype from all the vendors so it's good to see this blog has the guts to call out the technical issues with products.  I have to deal enough with my customers reading the positive press spin so thank you for digging into the real bits warts and all.  I would love to see some posts on Office 365 and what's coming.

  14. Keith says:

    I'm surprised no one has commented on Google feeling the need to integrate with Office.  I remember our CIO talking to them 2 years ago and they were boasting about replacing Office with their stuff and now they have to integrate.  Talk about an about face.  I guess their marketing doesn't live up to the reality.  If I'm going to use Office, why would I want Google bloat ware and spyware in it?

  15. AntiLinuxFanBoy says:

    I have tried this on Office 2010, and I can guarantee you this is PATHETIC. Google's offerings are laughable compared to the incredibly feature rich Microsoft Office 2010. Office Web Apps work like a charm. Microsoft FTW.

  16. AntiLinuxBoy says:

    @AntiLinuxFanBoy: LOL, cool story bro ! Google FTW !

  17. JoeTierney says:

    The next 5 years are going to be so awesome. I LOVE the YouTube video on a blogging platform that is transitioning to WordPress.

    To tell us about how hard is to share with Google's Internet services you use Google's Internet services on a blogging platform that will soon be running open source and you probably used FireFox as your browser when posting. All this great info and no need for any Microsoft products…

  18. charles says:

    John has it right.  Until you can write more than 50% of your posts about Microsoft's own innovation story, this blog should be called "We hate Google and you should too."  Why don't you take some of your cash hoard and use it to wow us with innovation, because beyond the Kinect, I'm just not seeing it!

  19. John says:

    I would easily opt for a Microsoft version of Google CLoud connect, Had it existed.

    BTW Google bought Docverse longtime back. If I were microsoft, I would have made such a feature inbuilt in all office releases by now. ! I donno why MS didnt do it yet ?

  20. Doug says:

    Rather than continuously slam Google and their offerings, show me where you have really innovated and created something that provides great value.  I won't hold my breath because I already know the answer; you can't.  I'm the IT Director for a chemical manufacturer in Georgia.  I switched to Gmail for my enterprise about 16 months ago.  Why?  Money.  In order to upgrade my aging Exchange/Outlook infrastructure I was going to need about $115,000 of capital money.  In this economy that was not going to happen.  But I still needed to support 300 users and my staff was cut down to two, including me.  So, rather than stick with the old, I decided to try the new.  Google Apps costs me about $15,000 per year.  I negotiated a new multiyear contract with my ISP, saving me $12,000 per year and paying for almost all of Google Apps yearly fees.  I no longer have to deal with Exchange database issues, PSTs, spam, or any of the other hassles of email processing and storage.  And none of my users need VPN (or Citrix) to check their email from home.  I looked at Exchange Online and it gave me only email (with a fraction of the storage) for the same price.  With Google Apps, I get all of the other Google services too.  Google Talk has been fantastic for video conferencing and Google Sites allows each department to create their own website, easily and with no extra hardware or software.  When you spend all your energy talking down the competition rather than talking up your own offerings, it sends one signal…fear.  And be afraid, be very afraid.

  21. Larry says:

    I have to disagree with some of you.  I rather enjoy reading MSFT's view on Google's stuff and then all the comments.  It's better than reading their marketing hype about their own stuff.  Keep up the good job MSFT in telling us why Google stinks.  I agree with you!

  22. OpenOffice fan says:

    I think you're all crazy.  Name something Google has done innovative that has sticked (Wave, Buzz???) or they haven't acquired (DocVerse, Writely, JotSpot).  Rather than Office, look at OpenOffice and kick both Microsoft and Google out the door!

  23. James Sutherland says:

    I found @Doug's comments quite familiar – in a small startup business I support, we found ourselves debating what to do with our legacy email system, Microsoft Small Business Server 2003. The official Microsoft upgrade path is apparently "oh, we hadn't thought of that": it is a 32-bit only product, whose direct replacement is 64-bit only. New server hardware was out of the question, but migrating to Google Apps for email made a great deal of sense.

    As sole sysadmin for two small companies, and primary sysadmin for a university department, Google offer a much more attractive email and calendar platform than Exchange – but we don't even seriously consider using the Docs components for most things, though it's quite handy for shared notes, inventory data, things like that. On the university side, though, we're actually going to Microsoft's Live@Edu rather than Google.

    I think both Microsoft and Google would like to see Google Apps as attacking Microsoft Office, but I would say the reality is that it competes with Exchange and to a lesser extent Outlook. (One die-hard fanboy uses Outlook as his IMAP client – odd, but it seems to work OK for him.) As a replacement for Word or Excel, generally, it isn't quite there – but for email, it's well in the lead.

  24. aaron says:

    Thanks for the post and video.

    So what might you propose as an alternative?

    Also, I'm using Windows Live Mesh, but I recently discovered than when I try to edit a file synced from my computer into Skydrive via Mesh, the only way to edit it is to download it and edit it in MS Word.

    Is there a way to get around this? Any thoughts?

    Thanks and again, great article.

  25. Correction says:

    You say "Unless you change the default setting, anyone in your domain can find and access your document." This is untrue, and probably disingenuous on your part. I don't know how else to take it, unless you know so little about the product that you are reviewing that you … I'm stopping this thought right now.

    Your Google Apps admin sets the default setting to "searchable," "linkable," or "private." If your admin has set your entire domain to "searchable" by default, and you don't change the default, then, yes, it's searchable. But if you have any sensitive positions like HR or accounting, that chap should be fired immediately and replaced with someone competent.

    Most admins of any repute will set the domain default to "private," and no documents will be shared without express consent.

  26. Kelly Jones says:

    Fantastic post. Here’s a tool that lets you build your cloud database apps without coding

  27. Terry Lawton says:

    Awesome post.  Here’s a tool that lets you build your cloud database apps without coding

  28. Geoff says:

    I just realised that GCC has been syncing Office documents THAT I'VE NEVER OPENED since I installed GCC!

    This is so wrong!

    I'm uninstalling it right now.

    The problem that I wanted to solve with GCC is that I need to do collaborative work with people but in order to use skydrive people need to have a Live account and connect to it to access the shared file. Unfortunately, this is too much to ask for most people…

  29. Vera says:

    My GCC has messed up everything. It makes Google Drive stop syncing between the cloud/the local computer. I just get up error messages and it connects different accounts with eachother randomly, which is a disaster when we have costumers connected. When I uninstalled it everything was running smoothly again..

    I am in love with Google Drive but I can gladly live without GCC.

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