DocVerse Purchase a Stopgap for Google Apps

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With its purchase of DocVerse, Google has stepped up competition with Microsoft Office. Yet, the acquisition also acknowledges weaknesses in Google Apps and how far Google is from being a serious Office challenger.

DocVerse describes itself as a "painless" tool for real-time sharing and collaboration using Microsoft Office files. It was not designed to work with Google Docs files. It seems likely the first integration with Google Apps will be simply making the DocVerse product available pretty much "as-is." That would mean as an Office add-on that stores files in Google's cloud.

By purchasing DocVerse, Google has acknowledged the obvious: Microsoft Office is the dominant force in productivity applications and is likely to remain so for a long time. DocVerse gives Google something to offer Office users that might convince them to use Google Apps as well. But, the bigger problem is compatibility issues, both in features and file formats, that DocVerse doesn't solve. Indeed, lacking those issues, Google would likely not need DocVerse.

Limited compatibility with Microsoft Office is a major reason why many Google Apps free and paid customers prefer to use the e-mail and calendar features, but not the word processor, spreadsheet, and presentation modules of Google Docs.

In my experience, Google Docs loses formatting during the conversion process from Microsoft's formats to Google's. In some cases, this requires only inserting new spaces between paragraphs, but complex formatting can be entirely lost.

Google Apps' limited feature set, which provides little more than basic app functionality, is reason why paid users number in the hundreds of thousands, rather than the 2 million registrations figure that Google sometimes quotes.

With the Google purchase, DocVerse has suspended product downloads and new customer registrations. DocVerse is in some ways a competitor with Microsoft's SharePoint collaboration tool.

I use Google Apps Premier Edition--the $50 per user per year version--every day. But I don't often use it as a writing or spreadsheet tool. Improving compatibility with Microsoft Office is certainly welcome, but Google needs to do a lot more to improve the basic functionality of Google Docs if it hopes to compete with desktop software.

DocVerse is a strategic investment for Google, which gets both an interesting product and the two former Microsofties who founded the company. Their knowledge of Office file formats bodes well for helping Google play better with the desktop suite most people use.

Google said it plans to use DocVerse to allow users who upload Microsoft files into Google storage to for editing and collaboration. The company did not say when the feature would become available.

Today, Google Docs has a very limited capability to work with Microsoft files, best described as "you'll be sorry if you do." A better tactic is to use Google Docs for what it is good at, which is creating simple documents and collaborating on them before cutting-and-pasting into Microsoft for formatting and printing.

DocVerse, as the product now exists, is a stopgap for Google, but at least one that may provide welcome functionality to a cloud-based offering, Google Apps, that could use some help.

David Coursey has been writing about technology products and companies for more than 25 years. He tweets as @techinciter and may be contacted via his Web site.

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