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Whither art thou, Google Apps offline?

Whither art thou, Google Apps offline?

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It’s been a cool summer in Redmond, and we’ve been working hard preparing some pleasant surprises for the next quarterly release of Office 365, developing features to improve enterprise productivity. Looking back, I recall Google’s Senior VP of Chrome, Sundar Pichai, mentioning that Google Docs, Gmail, and Google Calendar would be available offline this summer, though it looks like they have since postponed it to 3Q11 (Update: Google changed the release date to 8/31/2011). It’s been over a year since Google removed offline access from Google Docs, leaving businesses depending on offline access surprised and dismayed. Not only that, but before re-releasing offline for Gmail, Google removed Gears support from Chrome 11, and announced removal of Gears in Chrome 12. This decision not only took some users by surprise, it caused confusion and concern. In contrast to Google’s haphazard approach to product changes, Microsoft customers expect and have been relying on a timely and predictable release cadence.

Google may have misgivings about providing offline access to productivity applications. Of course, it’s a lot harder for Google to deliver advertising offline. Google’s chairman, Eric Schmidt repeatedly mentions that kids will be always online, and Google has cited lack of demand as one reason for pulling Google Docs' offline capability. Current Google Chromebooks have 16GB of storage – not enough for an enterprise class mailbox, let alone any other content created by a fully productive information worker. Google continues to restrict customers to web only to feed its search advertising revenue with little regards to real world business requirements, or its own customers’ needs. (Export the series as a CSV file to see that offline is the most-requested feature.)  

In addition to wondering about Google’s commitment to offline solutions, customers should consider whether Google is using the extra time to create an enterprise class offline experience, or whether they’re working out the monetization details for offline consumer applications. Given the problems with Google Docs offline and limitations of Gmail offline with Gears the last time around, businesses should be cautious about depending on Google’s new HTML5-based offline solution built on a storage technology whose specification is still in draft.

Cached Exchange mode debuted in Microsoft Outlook 2003, even before Google introduced Gmail. Office 2010, Exchange 2010, and Office 365 support 100,000 items per folder, instead of the 5000 items across all labels that Gmail offline provides. SharePoint Workspace enables easy online and offline collaboration, whether you work in Mountain View or with a view of a mountain. Of course, since 9 out of 10 Google Apps customers use Office, they’re already well aware of the advantages an enterprise productivity suite brings, especially when end users say “Take Outlook from my cold dead hands.”

Office 365 has the choice and flexibility that enterprises need – PC, phone, and browser, online or offline, single tenant, multi-tenant, and hybrid with on-premises. That’s what it takes to make real businesses productive, and we’re here to provide just that.

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