Google Brushes Off Microsoft-Facebook Docs Threat

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Google has dismissed Microsoft’s Docs integration with Facebook as a collaboration play for casual users

If Google is nervous about Microsoft’s latest integration with Facebook on web-based documents, it isn’t showing it and analysts are torn on whether the company has cause for concern.

Microsoft and Facebook on 21 April unveiled an application called Docs that lets Facebook users create and share Word, Excel and PowerPoint documents and share them with users in the social network.

Docs is built on the web-based Microsoft Office 2010 suite, which the software giant is expected to formally roll out in June. Office 2010 is expected to be a challenger to the Google Docs document, presentation and spreadsheet apps within Google Apps, which is used by more than 2 million businesses.

“Lightweight sharing”

Google dismissed the Docs integration with Facebook as a collaboration play for casual users, as a spokesperson told eWEEK:

“Microsoft sounds like an interesting way to do lightweight sharing within Facebook, and provides another example of how all software innovation is happening in the cloud. Google Docs is a great choice for those interested in powerful features and true collaboration.”

Interestingly, Google’s position about this move has been the standard response to any companies that have stepped up to offer online collaboration tools, from IBM to Cisco Systems.

The company believes that the more cloud computing challengers that exist, the greater the market opportunity that exists for Google Apps, which the company believes users and businesses will go to when they try other solutions.

Analysts view the move differently. Nucleus Research analyst Rebecca Wetteman told eWEEK:

“Facebook isn’t taken seriously by businesses – except those that choose to block it because workers waste time socialising on it instead of working. Microsoft missed the point on this one.

While it may be fun to share poems or other docs on my Facebook page, it’s more for socialising than serious business use. Why not, instead, enable Office users already connected by LDAP to collaborate on a document at the same time? That’s the business case for Google Docs.”

Pushing Office at the consumer market

IDC analyst Melissa Webster told eWEEK such an integration will expose Facebook’s 400-million-plus users to Microsoft’s Office Web Apps.

“It’s a great play to push Office at the consumer market and entrench Office as ‘the standard,’ and perceptions count,” Webster said. “Up to now, Google has been ‘the standard’ when it comes to online web authoring tools, and that’s what Microsoft is battling here.

That’s not to say this move will change the minds of businesses and university buyers using/contemplating Google Docs – they’re buying Google Apps for its hosted email and calendar, and its collaboration capabilities, and Google Docs is just a part of that total picture/value proposition. But a key reason Google has gotten paid users is the growth in use of its free Gmail and Calendar and Docs offerings – think of the unpaid user base as a giant sales funnel for potential paid users. FB could help Microsoft build that size funnel.”

ReadWriteWeb reviewed Docs in full here, but the gist is this: Users can navigate to and log in using Facebook Connect. Users can view documents shared by their friends, or else create or upload a document.

Once a document’s been created and edited, it can be shared with any Facebook friends selected via an interface on the right-hand side of the screen. Documents can be viewed and edited directly within a web browser or through the Microsoft Office software on a PC or Mac with a single click.

The Docs integration isn’t the first time Microsoft and Facebook have worked together to challenge Google on the web.

The companies have also teamed up on search and advertising for the last four years. Microsoft Bing powers the web search on Facebook.

Maverick blog writer Mark Cuban suggested Microsoft might buy Facebook to capture the social web. That would certainly give Google pause.

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