Why Is Microsoft Helping Users Migrate From Outlook To Gmail?

Collaboration SuitesMarketingSoftware

Gmail is supposed to be a big threat to Microsoft’s Outllok. If that’s the case, Clint Boulton wants to know why Microsoft is helping fix a tool that will help users move to Google?

I had a chat with Google Apps Senior Product Manager Rajen Sheth this week about cloud computing, interoperability with Microsoft and enterprise applications. But another subject came up: why would Microsoft work with Google to improve the Google Apps Sync for Microsoft Outlook plug-in?

Google rolled out the tool June 9, but it broke certain Windows features, so Google is fixing it. And Microsoft is helping. I asked Sheth: “It boggles my mind that Microsoft would work with Google on a product aimed at taking customers from the Outlook user base. How does that work?”

Sheth replied:

It’s definitely in both of our interests to make this work. There are a lot of users out there that like Outlook, and we want to be able to embrace that rather than reject it. One of the things we’re seeing in one of the corporations we’re deploying into is that a majority of users, once they start using Gmail, love it.

They love the Web-based interface. But there are a set of users that have been using Outlook for 10, 15 years and they don’t want to change. That vocal minority can sink the deployment for everybody. So it’s in our best interests to make all of the users happy. And for Microsoft, it’s in their best interest to cater to the needs of what the customer wants to do with their tools.

I should have taken this a step further with Sheth, but I got the idea that’s as good as his answer would get and he would refer me to Microsoft. Indeed, Microsoft Outlook officials admitted they were working with Google on this fix.
Outlook Product Manager Dev Balasubramanian wrote in his blog post on the matter: “We have brought these issues to Google’s attention, and have offered to work with them to find a resolution for our mutual customers.”

How exactly is it in Microsoft’s best interest to help Google perfect a product designed to tempt Outlook users to use Gmail?

Here’s what I think. That “vocal minority” of Outlook users Sheth referred to? That’s bigger than he lets on.

For the last 15 years, Microsoft’s email user base has gotten so big (and the licensing scheme so strict) that it has effectively created what I call the Outlook Castle. This castle is a force so well fortified in enterprises that Microsoft isn’t that scared of Google’s feisty efforts to persuade customers to join.
Google Apps Premier Edition has been live since February. Aside from Capgemini, Serena and some other sizable business deployments, is Google really making the dent it claims it is?

Microsoft’s readiness to help Google fix a sync tool designed to crack Microsoft’s Office fortress shows that the software giant isn’t that scared at all, not any more than Google is that Microsoft Bing is picking up some search users in the early going.

Apples and oranges? Maybe, but you get the idea. I’m not sure I buy anymore that Google is posing this big threat to Microsoft’s productivity tools.

That’s not to say Google Apps isn’t a great alternative. I prefer Gmail and Docs to Outlook and Word; but I’m one guy floating in a sea of large Microsoft shops that are comfortably treading water.

Clint Boulton writes eWEEK’s GoogleWatch blog.