Microsoft Belittles Google Docs Upgrade

Google's announcement this week that it had improved its Google Docs Web apps drew ridicule from a Microsoft official on Wednesday.

"I found it thought provoking to hear how Google articulates the excitement of their new groundbreaking features," stated Andrew Kisslo, senior product manager for Microsoft Office, in a blog post. Google had described the addition of tabs and rulers, along with the ability to move columns in spreadsheets -- all standard features found in various customer premises-installed productivity suites.

Kisslo joked that "the WordPad Team is very nervous" about Google adding a ruler to its Web-based word-processing application.

Google had explained that the feature additions had been difficult to do before because of older browser technologies. The company upgraded its codebase to address some faster JavaScript processing technologies as part of the improvements.

Users have to opt into using the "preview mode" version to try these new features in Google Docs. The preview mode represents an ongoing test period that's scheduled to last over the coming month, according to a Google spokesperson.

Kisslo suggested that Google Docs users would have trouble accessing older documents if they started using the new preview.

"What's also interesting is that the new 'version' means users can't bring over their old documents," Kisslo stated in the blog. "If you want the ruler now available in the new word processor, you can't open any existing documents you might have. So either abandon those docs or live in two parallel worlds for a while."

The Google spokesperson disputed Kisslo's account.

"The new editors for documents and spreadsheets are in preview, and available on an opt-in basis," the Google spokesperson explained via e-mail. "For those who opt-in, nothing will change for old documents; they work as they did before. If you opt-in to the new editor, all documents you create thereafter will use the new version. If you'd like to go back to the old version, you can change your settings. Of course, as we move out of the preview all documents created in the old editor will be transitioned to the new editor."

The Google spokesperson added that preview users can still use the older spreadsheets.

"For spreadsheets, users can easily toggle between the new and old editors for both new and existing documents," he wrote.

Kisslo also accused Google of not following the OpenDocument Format (ODF) spec with fidelity in Google Docs applications. The Google spokesperson called that claim "ironic" for Microsoft. (Microsoft has had its own issues staying true to the ISO/IEC-standardized version of its Office Open XML document format spec. However, the company did previously announce support for ODF in Office 2007.)

This seemingly minor spat between the two companies has deep implications. At stake may be much of Microsoft's empire, based on its two cash cows: Microsoft Office and Windows.

Google has tended to treat much of Microsoft's accomplishments over the years as legacy protocols to be ignored in the world of the Web. Its Chrome OS, currently under development, promises greater speeds accessing Web apps compared with a traditional desktop OSes. Some of the speed improvements happen through bypassing typical bootup processes designed into Microsoft Windows OSes over the years, such as checking for floppy disk drives and other startup details.

Microsoft, for its part, depicts Google as heedlessly trampling over customer needs as it rolls out its product upgrades for the Web only.

"In contrast to Google, we are about building for any run time environment," Kisslo stated.

Microsoft has its own Office Web Apps, which are currently available in beta form but will be released with Office 2010 in June. These browser-based versions of Excel, OneNote, PowerPoint and Word will enable document collaboration over the Internet -- one of the principal advantages of Google Docs.

Google isn't alone as a target for the Microsoft Office team's ire. IBM's initial introduction of LotusLive hosted applications drew a stern rebuke from Microsoft officials, plus a swift reaction as IBM announced a new Lotus Live customer.

About the Author

Kurt Mackie is senior news producer for 1105 Media's Converge360 group.