Google And Microsoft Prepare For Cloud Battle

The cloud is the new battleground for office productivity applications and Google's new updates to its widely-used Google Docs suite shows that Google is serious about becoming the go-to office application offering despite the stranglehold by rival Microsoft Corp.

Google on Monday hosted roughly 400 CIOs at an enterprise cloud event dubbed Atmosphere. There, the Mountain View, Calif. crew highlighted how enterprises can take advantage of cloud computing and leverage it in their business through Google offerings like Google Apps and Google Docs.

Google also revealed new features and functions in its Docs suite of cloud-based, or Web-based, applications that offer online word processing, presentation, spreadsheet, drawing and forms applications. The updates to the underlying Google Docs infrastructure include speedier performance, real-time collaboration and easier document uploading.

While the Google Docs updates may not seem sexy, they are a strategic and calculated attack against Microsoft and its Microsoft Office suite, Google's main office productivity application foe. And the Docs refresh marks another move by Google to woo users away from the old guard to its cloud offerings.

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For its part, Microsoft plans to release Office 2010 next month to the business world. Microsoft Office 2010 is expected to feature updated versions of Microsoft's popular Word, Excel, PowerPoint and other applications. But Microsoft is no longer playing just the desktop application game; Office 2010 ups the ante by including Office Web Apps, which are cloud-based versions of many of Microsoft's now-famous applications that give users the ability to store, edit and share documents online.

The Google Docs updates and their timing, as Microsoft readies to unleash Office 2010 in May, mark another chapter in the often contentious competition between the search giant and software behemoth, one that has snowballed as the cloud came into its own and Google Docs started making hay versus Microsoft's desktop-based offerings.

Docs has an advantage on pricing, as the Web-hosted office productivity suite is free for consumers and light users and offered as part of Google Apps, Google's collaboration and communications suite which offers enterprises access to its full list of cloud applications for $50 per user per year.

Meanwhile Microsoft Office 2010's cloud offerings are currently available in a free beta. Microsoft has said it will offer free, ad-supported Web versions of Office applications, but the regular versions of Office 2010 will cost anywhere between $100 and $500 and those versions will feature more robust access to the cloud versions without advertising.

Despite Google's progress, Microsoft still holds the mindshare, as Office has become synonymous with productivity apps from word processing to spreadsheets. Google Docs has only been in the game some three years and while it has made waves, dethroning the leader is an uphill battle.

Only time will tell who will be the victor as Google and Microsoft play back and forth in the cloud, but as it stands now the cloud is Google's to lose.