The old Microsoft Office is good enough, Google says

Google got in some trash-talking of the competition on the eve of the Microsoft Office 2010 introduction, saying people who are happy with Office 2003 or 2007 should stick with those products and use Google Docs for collaboration, rather than upgrade to the new version of the Microsoft software.

"People should stick with what they've got," said Jonathan Rochelle, group product manager for Google Apps, in a phone interview. "To get all the benefits of 2010 and SharePoint, upgrading is not necessary."

Microsoft plans to launch Office 2010 on Wednesday, and Google sees the product suite as a reaction to Google Docs. Is that true? I'm not much of an Office user myself, so I couldn't say. But my colleague Preston Gralla did a hands-on review of Microsoft Office 2010, and found that the primary changes to the product suite were in Outlook, which he loved. A couple of the features he describes in Outlook, primarily threaded views of conversations and the ability to ignore unnecessary discussions and parts of discussions, are features that have been present in Gmail for a while. He says the upgrades to Word and Excel are nice-to-haves rather than gotta-haves.

Preston did a hands-on review of April's upgrade to Google Docs and said it's good, but no replacement for Office, primarily because Google has removed the ability to work on documents offline, part of the company's transition from Gears to HTML5. Preston says the new version "may well attract those who currently use Office but also want to use Google Docs for collaboration or Web-based document creation and editing. This new version certainly isn't an Office killer, but it may help introduce Google Docs to a wider audience."

Google will use technology from its DocVerse acquisition to integrate Google Docs and Microsoft Office, Rochelle said. Google acquired DocVerse in March.

Google plans to reactivate offline access to Docs, but Rochelle did not provide a timetable. The company sees offline access as an "important feature," but one which isn't much in demand from users.

Tools such as DocVerse, Memeo, Syncplicity, and Offisync provide offline access to Google Docs, Rochelle noted.

I asked Rochelle about overlap between Google products, and whether that creates conflict for Google. For example, one of the new features in Google Docs, rolled out last month, is realtime editing collaboration. Two people can be logged into the same document in the Apps word processor or spreadsheet, and, as one person makes changes to a document, the other sees the changes in realtime, character for character, as the first person types. That same feature is part of Google Wave.

Rochelle said the overlap is good. "I think we can learn a lot from each other, I don't think one team can hit on every idea, we can cross-fertilize," he said. Wave is built on communication, with document creation in addition, while Docs is centered around the content, he said.

I hardly use Google Docs myself, however I use Google's other productivity tools every day. I use Gmail on Google Apps as my only e-mail; I wrote recently about making the switch to Google Apps for mail and issues involved in using Gmail for business. I also use Google Voice as my main phone number, in conjunction with Skype, and I wrote up some tips for integrating Google Voice with Skype.

Mitch Wagner is a freelance technology journalist and social media marketing consultant. Follow him on Twitter: @MitchWagner.

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