Executive Summary:

Introducing Google Apps or Google Apps Premier Edition into your organization or Small Office/Home Office (SOHO) is an economical way to gain rock-solid email, messaging, and a secure document storage infrastructure, which otherwise would cost tens of thousands of dollars a year to build, support, and maintain if done from scratch. We look at how to use several of the Google Apps applications with their Microsoft Office counterparts.


Google's web-based applications, called Google Apps, have been stealing headlines as many critics and pundits see the venerable Microsoft Office suite under siege. One of the beauties of Google Apps is the fact that you can access the applications from anywhere on any platform via your web browser. By combining Google Apps with Microsoft Office, you can build a collaborative workspace for employees and extend the reach of Microsoft Office to the web. I'll walk you through some of the ways you can merge the apps of these major rivals.

Inside Google Apps

Google Apps comes in three flavors: Google Apps Standard Edition, the free version, includes Gmail, Google Docs (word processor, spreadsheet, and presentations), Google Talk, Google Calendar, Google Sites (a wiki), and a customizable Start page all addressed to your domain. Google Apps Premier Edition adds several enterprise support features including extensibility APIs, as well as email security and compliance support through Google’s acquisition of Postini. (To learn more and to sign up for Google Apps, see http://www.google.com/a.) Another edition, Google Apps Team Edition, includes Google Sites, Google Docs, Google Calendar, Google Talk, and a Start page. However, you have to use your own email servers with this edition.

Introducing Google Apps or Google Apps Premier Edition into your organization or Small Office/Home Office (SOHO) is an economical way to gain rock-solid email, messaging, and a secure document storage infrastructure, which otherwise would cost tens of thousands of dollars a year to build, support, and maintain if done from scratch. Let's look at how to use several of the Google Apps applications with their Microsoft Office counterparts.

Using Gmail with Microsoft Outlook

Many organizations, project teams, and individuals depend on Microsoft Outlook to keep track of their day. Implementing Gmail in Google Apps means you can access your email and calendar data from any web browser, which is handy for today’s mobile workforce. Users migrating to Google Apps need to configure the necessary email settings in Outlook. Before you proceed, be sure Outlook is up to date with all the required patches and service packs.

You can enable POP email access in Gmail as well as IMAP email access, which should be especially attractive to users who split their email access between multiple PCs or mobile devices. To enable POP and/or IMAP in your Gmail account, log into your account, then click Settings at the top of any mail page. Next, click Forwarding and POP/IMAP in the orange Mail Settings box and follow the directions for the particular email access you prefer. To configure Outlook, click Configure your email client and follow the link below it to the Gmail Help Center web page to find instructions to configure your version of Outlook.

Using Google Calendar with Outlook

Google Calendar is emerging as one of the most popular web calendars around. Its inclusion in Google Apps Standard Edition, Google Apps Premier Edition, and Google Apps Team Edition means that you can access your calendar data from a web browser or Outlook without the additional costs and infrastructure incurred by using Microsoft Exchange and Outlook Web Access (OWA).

You have three options for accessing Google Calendar from Outlook. One way is to use Google Calendar Sync (https://www.google.com/support/calendar/bin/answer.py?answer=89955), which enables 2-way sync, 1-way sync from Google Calendar to Outlook’s calendar, and 1-way sync from Outlook’s calendar to Google Calendar. Another option is to use a third-party synchronization tool such as SyncMyCal Pro (http://www.syncmycal.com), which enables you to upload and download events from Outlook’s calendar to Google Calendar. As with any calendar-synchronization solution, it’s prudent to test the synchronization options available in an application prior to making a final decision.

A third option is to use Outlook’s Home Page feature to access Google Calendar. To do so, right-click your calendar in Outlook and select Properties. The Properties dialog box appears. At the Home Page tab in the Address box, type http://www.google.com/calendar/render and select Show Home Page by Default. Next, in the Offline Web Page Settings, clear the Downloading web page option. Finally, press CTRL+2  to open Google Calendar in Outlook. This option performed rather slowly for me and might not be as good a choice as the other options.
 

Using Google Docs with Microsoft Word, Excel, and PowerPoint

Google Docs brings a word processor, spreadsheet, and a presentation application to the web. Although maybe not as full featured as their Microsoft Office counterparts, the tools offer more of a collaborative platform where teams can flesh out ideas, plans, and concepts and make them accessible to multiple users. Housing documents online with Google Docs during the initial creation offers the advantages of security and accessibility. Users can save documents in Google Docs in Word (.doc) or Rich Text Format (.rtf), and a project team can send the documents to a Microsoft Office user for final development and publication. Google has implemented a system of tagging and folders to make it easy to organize documents for easy access by other users.

Another powerful feature is the addition of multiple output options for documents. To use this feature, select a document in Google Docs, then choose More Actions. From the More Actions menu, you can save a document in .pdf, .rtf, text, or .doc formats.

Google Docs does restrict upload sizes, including a 500KB restriction on HTML documents, plain text files, .doc files, and .rtf files.  Additionally, it limits Microsoft Office PowerPoint presentations to just 10MB uploads, and there’s a 1MB upload restriction on spreadsheets including Comma Separated Value (CSV) and Microsoft Excel (.xls) files.

Although these file restrictions might seem restrictive at first, they lend credence to the complementary nature of Google Apps for Microsoft Office users. With these restrictions, you aren’t going to be able to upload a large document such as a functional specification or software architecture document, so you need to think of Google Apps as a “scratch pad” for ideas, concepts, and even first drafts, versus a full-fledged document-publishing solution.