Users of Google Docs, the hosted suite of office productivity applications, can expect dramatic changes in the next 12 months.
So said Dave Girouard, president of Google's Enterprise unit, at the Bank of America and Merrill Lynch 2009 US Technology Conference on Thursday.
After acknowledging that Google has "a lot of work to do" to improve Docs, and that the suite isn't yet a "full on" replacement for Microsoft Office, nor the open-source OpenOffice, Girouard said big improvements are coming.
"In a year, those products will be night and day from what they are today," he said, referring to the word-processing, spreadsheet and presentation software in Docs.
While Google has always acknowledged that Docs doesn't match all of the Microsoft Office features, it also has pointed out that, as web-hosted software, it offers collaboration capabilities its PC-based competitor can't.
Girouard wasn't specific about what Docs features need to improve, but his comments sounded like a general acknowledgement that, even with its collaboration advantages, Docs has to improve its user experience to get people to view it as a more credible alternative to other office suites.
Girouard, whose presentation was webcast, said that Gmail and Calendar are much more mature products and thus drive the decisions of most businesses to adopt the Apps collaboration and communication suite, which also includes Docs.
Apps customers will also see more effort by Google to attract enterprise developers to its App Engine hosted application development environment, which recently gained Java support and became generally available, after a period of limited release.
Google will also continue enhancing the Gmail and Calendar components with improvements aimed at CIOs and IT managers, including the upcoming Apps Connector for BlackBerry Enterprise Server, he said.
Ironically, the economic downturn and the ensuing reductions in IT budgets have caused a spike in interest in the Premier version of Apps, which can cost between five and 20 times less than Microsoft's Office and Exchange, he said.
Apps Premier costs $50 (£31) per user, per year, and as the most sophisticated version of the suite, is geared toward businesses with more than 50 end-users, which is the maximum for the Standard version, which carries ads in Gmail and is free. There is also a free Education edition designed for schools and universities. Most Apps users are small businesses.
While happy with the gradual but steady growth of Apps' adoption by large enterprises, Girouard acknowledged that security concerns about web-hosted software remain a big obstacle.
"We're very early in this thing and most CIOs are still scared to death with the idea of their data being outside of their firewall in someone else's data centres," said Girouard, who answered questions from a financial analyst and from audience members.
Google maintains that those concerns are unwarranted, saying data is more secure in one of its data centres than in an organisation's data centre.
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