Google Apps: Productive Anywhere?


Five years is a long time. In five years, the British developed the 2012 Olympic Stadium. In five years, San Francisco built the Golden Gate Bridge. In five years, Apple released six generations of its iPhone.

Five years is how long Google has been promising—but has yet to fully deliver—offline support for Google Apps.

Despite very limited offline access, the company claims that with Google Apps, users are “productive anywhere.” But what about the airplane? Or while carpooling? Or in the doctor’s office?

There are numerous places knowledge workers find themselves during the day where Internet access is slow or isn’t available at all. And if you happen to be using Google Apps, the reality is that you won’t be anywhere near as productive.

Google’s claim of productive anywhere simply isn’t backed up by reality.

As analyst Dan Olds, analyst with Gabriel Consulting Group, told Computer Week: “Offline access is something that Google should have made a priority and delivered before now. Web access isn’t nearly as ubiquitous as some might think and being able to do useful work offline is critical to most business people.”

Google Apps Offline Productivity Limited

Delivering at a Snail’s Pace
Despite being one of the most-requested features, offline access has been coming to Google Apps at a snail’s pace. Google promised offline access as early as May 2007, when it first released Google Gears, a web browser extension that supported Gmail offline access. When Google gave up on Google Gears in November 2009, it instead promised to incorporate offline support in the HTML5 spec as an open standard supported across browsers. Yet it took Google nearly two years to even begin delivering on its promise, when it reintroduced Gmail offline access in August 2011 .

By September 2011, Google Apps customers could view Google Documents offline, but if they wanted to edit them, they were out of luck. For that they needed to wait until June of this year, when Google finally announced offline support for Google Docs editing.

Google’s Limited Offline Productivity Experience
Even with the ability to edit Google Docs without Internet access, offline productivity within Google Apps is still extremely limited. Check out the list of offline limitations:

  • No access with any browser except for Chrome
  • No ability to edit spreadsheets
  • No ability to view or edit presentations
  • No ability to print documents
  • No ability to download or share documents
  • No ability to insert images or drawings
  • No ability use research or translation tools
  • No ability to report an issue
  • No offline coverage within the Google Apps service level agreement

And that’s not all. Google basically recommends not working offline with shared documents to prevent data loss. According to the company’s own website: “If an online collaborator deletes the text you edit while offline, their changes will override yours. If a collaborator deletes the document you’re editing offline, your changes will be lost when you come back online because the document will no longer exist. Try to use offline editing for documents that you own and that won’t be deleted without your knowledge.

I don’t know about you, but that doesn’t exactly give me a lot of confidence.

By contrast, Office 365 offers a truly productive anywhere experience. With Office on the desktop, you can get work done whether or not you have Internet access. Archived emails and documents are always accessible, allowing users to work efficiently without Internet connectivity.

And when it comes to email, whatever users can do online, they can do the same offline—such as access the Active Directory address book, review an unlimited number of emails, set up meeting invites, and use rich text formatting to compose emails. With Office Client on the desktop, Office 365 users can keep working on documents, spreadsheets and presentations—anytime, anywhere.

Long on Promises, Short on Commitment
The influential management consultant Peter Drucker once said: “Unless commitment is made, there are only promises and hopes, but no plans.”

When it comes to its claim of productive anywhere, Google has been long on promises, yet short on commitment. How long do Google customers have to wait?

Comments (27)

  1. Amanda says:

    What are the system requirements to work offline (what do I need to have installed)?

  2. Nathan says:

    I'd choose Google Docs over MS Office because it's free… 😛

  3. Mike says:

    Nathan, Office Web apps are free on Skydrive.

  4. Matt says:

    I like the way Microsoft's online apps are coming along but I would be careful on calling your competitor out as the online Office apps are not full featured. I understand the need to compare the two, but I think it needs to be balanced with some examples of real world use. Just my two cents.

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    Google apps are garbage, reminds me of COBY knockoffs.  Free? Except all your content is part of Google's ad hegemony, per your agreement.

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