With all the talk lately about working in the cloud, you might think desktop applications were about to go the way of the dot-matrix printer. In fact, running our everyday apps off the desktop remains the norm, especially in organizations. And considering the slow pace of technology change at most companies, the norm isn't likely to change anytime soon.
Still, there's no denying the long-term trend toward Web-hosted applications and storage. Facilitating the transition from local to remote apps is Google Cloud Connect for Microsoft Office, a toolbar that adds a Sync button to Word, Excel, and PowerPoint for storing DOC, XLS, and PPT files to your Google Docs account. I tested the toolbar in the 2010 versions of the three programs.
Comparing Microsoft's Office Web Apps with Google Docs
Web services that replace desktop apps
One-click file syncs between Office and Google Docs
The first time you open Word, Excel, or PowerPoint after installing Cloud Connect, you're prompted to sign into your Google account to grant the "third party" access to your data. After you sign in to Google, you're asked to grant access to specific services; in my case, these were Google Docs and Google Contacts.
The Global Settings dialog opens for resetting the default automatic sync to manual (only when you press the Sync button). The option to disable Protected View for documents synced with Google Docs is unchecked by default.
The toolbar appears prominently below the ribbon in the Office 2010 versions of Word, Excel, and PowerPoint. To sync a file, simply open it and click Sync. Seconds later the sync is confirmed and a Share button joins the Sync button on the right side of the toolbar.
The synced file's URL is shown in the middle of the toolbar along with a drop-down menu on the right. Menu options let you copy the file, see a revision history, and view and remove the Google information embedded with the file. You can also change the sync default setting.
Cloud Connect has only a handful of other settings. Access them by clicking the button labeled Google Cloud Connect on the left side of the toolbar and choosing the first of the three options (the other two are Help and About).
Save one version or multiple copies of files on Google Docs
It took just a few seconds for my test Office files to appear in Google Docs after syncing them in Word, Excel, and PowerPoint, although none of the files I synced was larger than 1MB. All the files opened for editing in Google Docs without a hitch.
When you download a file you edited on Google Docs and reopen it in its native desktop app, an alert appears above the Cloud Connect toolbar warning that the file was downloaded from the Internet, so it could be dangerous. Click the Enable Editing button to unprotect the file.
If you rename a Word, Excel, or PowerPoint file you've synced to Google Docs, you're given the choice of saving a second (or third or fourth) version of the file or creating a new version of the file with its own revision history.
Back in Google Docs, you can choose among the versions by highlighting the file on the home screen and clicking the Manage link next to Versions in the right pane. Depending on which sync option you choose, the file may retain its original name even after you've changed its name in the corresponding Office app. This can be confusing, but it isn't difficult to sort through multiple versions of files on Google Docs to find a specific one.
Plenty of people have sworn off desktop applications entirely in favor of their Web counterparts, but most of us will continue to bounce back and forth between working with files and apps stored locally and using their cloud equivalents. Google Cloud Connect brings the two universes closer together and promises to make the transition from software to services simpler--though not quite seamless.