Google exec: Microsoft too far behind in cloud apps

Q&A: Google's Dave Girouard says when it comes to competition, there's Microsoft ... and Microsoft

Of the challenges that could keep Google from reaching its goal of using Google Docs to move into the enterprise, Microsoft may be one of the biggest barriers.

Google and rival Microsoft are battling on several fronts: search, browsers, operating systems and office software. And the office software front is heating up as Google continues to push Google Docs to the forefront of cloud computing and Microsoft readies to move its ubiquitous Office suite into the cloud as well.

However, Dave Girouard, president of Google's enterprise division, tells Computerworld that when it comes to competition, there's Microsoft and then there's ... well, there's Microsoft. But he seems to be really looking forward to locking horns with his Redmond, Wash., counterparts.

In a one-on-one interview, Girouard talks about competing with a company known for its office apps, Google's own growth in the enterprise, and what he thinks Google's advantages are over Microsoft.

What's your strategy for Google Docs? Where are you going with it? Docs is part of a larger strategy. It's a component of the larger suite that's about to get radically bigger. Generally, we are absolutely focused on changing the way people work, providing them tools to work seamlessly across time and space.

We're doing that by leveraging what we refer to as the consumerization of IT. Focus on apps that are fast and easy to use, like the ones you'd use on your own.

How much larger is the suite going to get? We announced [last week] that Google Apps, which is comprised of about nine different apps, will later this year have more than 90 different applications, like Picasa, Google Reader. These will all become part of the Google Apps suite. We are adding a lot of capabilities to Google Apps this year. Users and IT administrators wanted access to more Google services. This has been in the works for more than a year because it's a pretty fundamental redesign of how our accounts are structured.

How is this going to affect Google Docs in particular? It will bring a lot of other capabilities to Google Docs. You can pick photos out of Picasa and put them in Google Docs. Buzz will become part of Google Apps and could be integrated into Google Docs, for sure.

What's your strategy for getting Google Docs into the enterprise? We launched Google Apps as business services in 2007. We have about 25 million unique users. It's not airtight data, but it's predominantly used in businesses. More than 2 million unique businesses are using it. More than 3,000 businesses sign up every day. Probably every few weeks a company that is in the tens of thousands of employees goes live on Google Apps. Those are Fortune 1,000 companies.

Who do you see as your biggest competitors?There's Microsoft and then there's Microsoft. Obviously, there are multiple competitors, but the one we see the most and talk about the most is Microsoft because they're the gorilla in the market. They tend to have competitive products to what we have. Cisco is kind of getting into this game. And IBM is in there. I would certainly characterize those as far less directly competitive.

How do you compete against a company that has such an enormously popular office application suite?When people thought mainframes, they thought IBM, but that didn't mean Microsoft couldn't become a big, successful company without building mainframes. Cloud computing is a new game. New leaders will emerge. Microsoft is a great company, but we think we're several years ahead in our ability to build and deliver cloud services that are reliable and useful and secure.

Microsoft is planning on coming out with its own cloud-based office applications. Don't you think a lot of companies will stick with Microsoft because they have a history of using the company's software? There will certainly be people who will stay with Microsoft because they know them, but those people will fall further and further behind. Microsoft will have to drag the past along with them. They have an enormous economic model to deal with, and that will hurt them. They have to find a way to go from the traditional software licensing model to a cloud computing model, and there has not been a company that has done that yet to date. It's not to say Microsoft can't do it, but they certainly have a lot of challenges to make that happen successfully.

Still, though, Microsoft has a big head start on you. How will you deal with that? We don't have enough time for me to list [all our advantages]. To use Microsoft and do some form of cloud-based editing, it is ugly and complex. To get the new Google Apps, what do you have to do? Refresh your browser. That fundamental difference is what will make Google successful against Microsoft.

Sharon Gaudin covers the Internet and Web 2.0, emerging technologies, and desktop and laptop chips for Computerworld. Follow Sharon on Twitter at  @sgaudin or subscribe to Sharon's RSS feed . Her e-mail address is sgaudin@computerworld.com.

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