UPDATE (10/15/12): Responding to customer complaints, Google last week announced that it will delay the change to its file exporting functionality until Jan. 31, 2013. “We recognize that some of our customers would like more time before the change goes into effect,” Google said in a blog post posted on Oct. 9. While Google did not say how many customer complaints it has received, Amit Singh, Vice President of Google Enterprise, said in a comment posted on Google+ that he was “surprised how many of you want to stay on Office 2003 and use Docs to interoperate.” Google’s decision to phase out its support for Office 1997-2003 file formats has drawn criticism from the media and Google customers alike. Said one IT technician: “This is horrible… I'm expecting 20-50 phone calls when this goes through from friends still on Office 2003 or even Office '97. Said another Google customer: “Why remove it at all? …I would prefer the option to save in both formats.” Not sure why Google thinks public perception will change over the next 100 or so days. We’ll keep you updated.
In a move that may affect millions of organizations, Google announced that Google Apps no longer allows users to export files to common Office 1997-2003 formats, as of today. And it gave users just three business days’ notice. Ouch.
So what does this mean? If you’ve created a file in Google Apps, you won’t be able to export your work to the Office 2003 or older formats millions of people rely on every day. That includes anyone working with Word, Excel, or PowerPoint using the .doc, .xls, and .ppt formats.
In practical terms, that means that if you rely on Google Apps, your ability to collaborate and share documents with millions of people is greatly restricted, which can have a detrimental effect across the organization, let alone among clients and partners.
Why Compatibility Matters
Why is this big news? Because millions of businesses continue to use older versions of Office. According to a survey by Forrester Research, 74 percent of IT departments continue to support “Office 2003 and earlier.”
The move reveals a deep problem in working with Google. Again and again, the company makes abrupt decisions and lobs them at customers without warning, leaving them insufficient time to plan. It all adds up to blatant disregard for Google’s enterprise customers.
Creating a Headache for Google Customers
Many in the media called the news troubling. As The Next Web wrote: “This is still not very good news for businesses that rely both on Google Docs and old Microsoft Office suites. While many have transitioned to the newer formats, most have not, and not being to export to them could cause massive company-wide headaches.”
John P. Mello Jr. of PC World agrees: “For organizations with a diverse user base, Google's action makes using its commercial productivity suite a potentially annoying exercise,” he writes. “The lack of support for older formats could create friction among the collaborators of a document as they struggle to figure out why they can't view a file or why a document doesn't look the same to one user as it does to another.
Why did Google do this? The company touts open principles as a reason for moving away from binary formats, according to Joe Wilcox of BetaNews. But as he points out: “Another definition of open is ignored: open access to what people widely use. Google closes that up next week.“
If users want to open Google Apps files using an older version of Office, Google suggests they install Microsoft’s free compatibility plug-in. But as Nick Farrell of TechEYE.net reports: “While this might be true [that Microsoft offers a free compatibility pack], it is a little strange to say to customers that they will have to use a rival's software so they can ‘upgrade’ to its product.” Farrell concludes that “Google just turned its Google Apps software into something a lot less useful.”
Google’s move makes it clearer than ever why customers should stick with Office. As Wilcox of BetaNews says: “Office 2013 supports older binary formats just fine. Even better, just as Google chops off a hand, Microsoft extends one. The new Office adds full support–that’s open, edit and save–for ODF 1.2, PDF and strict open XML.”
Office provides backwards compatibility. We take into account our customers’ needs before making changes. And when we make changes, we give users ample notice to give them time to adapt. With more than two decades of experience helping businesses succeed, we know what enterprises need to thrive.
“It’s simply a rather quick turnaround for some users who relied on the exporting ability: they’ve only got a week to adapt,” writes Kif Leswing of Ubergizmo.” In many ways, this ‘feature’ change illuminates the differences between Microsoft and Google: Microsoft is hyperaware of backwards compatibility, and Google thinks old technology and formats get in the way of progress.”
As Wilcox of BetaNews sums it up: “for businesses that still save to the binary formats or have a heap load of documents in them, suddenly Google's cloud productivity suite is a less compelling choice.”
Entrusting Your Business To Google?
Once again, the question has to be asked: Can you really trust your enterprise needs to Google? As Farrell of TechEYE.net writes, the move “could make companies wonder about why they are using Google docs in the first place.“