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Google Innovation or Imitation

Google Innovation or Imitation

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I've been around the block enough times to know what technology innovations are. I'm all about it and I'd better be. – With over fifteen years of product management experience. Meanwhile, it seems to me that Google Apps folks from the googlelplex are outmoded; worse for techies, they're lagging. In the debate between Google's Shan Sinha and Tom Rizzo, a comment registers whether you can even compare Google's and Microsoft's productivity suites:

“Where Google says their offering does not rely on desktop software - I see lock-in and limited or no offline access let's not <overlook> even the ability for hybrid environments. A lot of 'new' features Google claims are not available in Office - they might be correct, if you're referring to Office 2003.The latest feature in Gmail is the preview pane, so now users can have the same functionality that was available in Outlook 97 or Hotmail. The perception is that Google is the innovator in the cloud apps space, but what we are seeing in business is that they are playing catch-up - and have a long, long way to go. Good on them for trying, but they should get comfortable in that position as Microsoft has the history, experience and strength when it comes to delivering business applications.”—Loryan Strant

What else? What's really there in the cloud hanging over Mountain View?

Let's look at new Google Docs and Google Spreadsheets features, aka “niceties” over the last 12 months.

Niceties for Google Docs
In August 2010, Google introduced the nicety to resize tables in Google Docs. The table resizing functionality is basic to the Office suite. After all, Microsoft had it in Office 2003. Also in August 2010, Google decided to give its users other niceties like the ability to paste drawings into Google Docs. Yes, what a fine capability pasting drawings into Word docs was for Microsoft's customers way back in 2003. Not only that, Word 2003 customers had an entire canvas where they could compose a picture in Word from multiple elements. Nicey-nicey.

The Office suite provides auto-correction of spelling mistakes through Word 2010, Word 2007 and Word 2003. Finally, in November of 2010, Google delivered this most basic feature which customers need to present their work professionally. I can't imagine how much students needed the feature, and as a business user, I can't imagine being without it. As of this week, Google is still having trouble spell-checking English.

Okay, I've got to tell you about my favorite feature introduced for Google Apps recently. In March of this year Google announced the ability to filter data in Google Spreadsheets. As part of my work, I've spent many hours regularly analyzing global customer data. Often, the data sets I've used have had over 15,000 records. If it weren't for Excel's ability to filter data I would have had to purchase a separate statistical software service to help me identify customers with common characteristics. So how have Google Apps customers been analyzing data when they could have been using Excel 2003, Excel 2007, and Excel 2010? In seven years they could have gotten a mountain of work done with Excel in Office. Come on! What kind of value were they really getting from Google Spreadsheets?


                                                                                                 -- websters.com

Google Gaps
On June 2nd of this year, Google asked its customers what features they wanted and regurgitated an exhausting wish list of 1955 feature requests for Google Apps. The sheer quantity of feature requests shows how far Google Docs is trailing.

Far and away, the most requested feature was “I want Google Docs to be available offline”. It received 1308 votes as compared to 887 votes for the second most requested feature. With that amount of demand, this need for offline access can't be a big surprise to Google, yet it still doesn't have the capability for offline access.

Google left their customers hanging without offline access. In February of 2010, claiming they were close with an HTML5-based solution for working offline, Google stopped investing in Gears, which was providing that capability. In March of 2011 they stopped support of Gears completely, still having no offline solution. In May of this year, at their Google I/O conference, they still did not have the feature and they re-promised it for the summer. Today, Google Apps customers have been without offline access for 18 months and must settle for a band aid approach to offline access, with limitations.

So what feature request was 2nd in popularity, earning 887 votes? It was, “In Gmail, make all Google Docs available as an attachment.  Instead of having to download a Document from Google Docs and then attach that file in my Gmail Compose window, I want an ‘Attach a Google Doc’ paper clip link in my Gmail Compose window.“ It's funny. Microsoft customers had the ability to work offline and the ability to attach documents seven years ago in Office 2003.

Next up, third in demand by users with 829 votes was: “Add better functions for header/footer (page numbering...) “. Today, this very basic feature from computing's “word processing” era still doesn't exist in Google Docs. Oh, wait; there is more that Google Docs customers are asking for. There were 1955 Google Docs feature requests. Here are some in top demand:

  Allow the use of all Google Fonts across all the Google Docs tools.
  Seamless integration between Google Docs tools; i.e., insert part of a spreadsheet into a Document.
  Full Sync between folders on my computer and docs.
  Merge cells vertically in Spreadsheets.
  When converting from a Google doc for export to either .doc or .pdf format some of the formatting is lost especially when it comes to tabs. This needs to be corrected.
  Better fidelity when exporting to/importing from MS Office formats.
  I need to be able to edit Google docs while I am offline and then have it synchronize with the
   docs when I am back online again.

Stay on the trail, Google.

Continue to follow Microsoft.

Find more worn-in features to bring to your Google Docs customers 7 years after we deliver them to ours!

The innovation climate is fine here in Redmond! This year alone, Microsoft is spending 90% of its $9.6 Billion R&D budget on cloud strategies. There is a lot we can achieve with this level of investment in cloud initiatives this year. After all, we know what innovations are—things that are incredibly useful or powerful and new, of course.

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