System Requirements

To use Google Cloud Connect, you'll need a Google account and a PC running Windows XP, Vista or Windows 7. You'll also need Microsoft Office 2003, 2007 or 2010. Because the Mac version of Microsoft Office lacks an open API, there's no Google Cloud Connect solution for Apple fans yet.

Google Cloud Connect

One of the challenges of working with electronic documents is finding a simple way to collaborate with other people. Using the old method of opening up an application on your computer, creating a file, saving it and then sending it to someone else invites problems. First among those is that this approach generates two copies of the document. If you make changes to your copy while other people make changes to their copies of that same file, how do you incorporate all the changes? Which version of the file is the correct one? What happens if someone opens an older copy of the file and makes changes, not knowing that a more current version of the document already exists? File management becomes challenging.

Google Cloud Connect approaches this problem by leveraging the cloud and the application programming interface (API) for Microsoft Office. After installing a plug-in for the Microsoft Office suite of programs, you can save files to the cloud. This means the cloud copy of the file becomes the master document that everyone uses. Google Cloud Connect assigns each file a unique URL. You can share this URL with others to let them view the document. If you designate someone as an editor, that person can then download the document and open it in Microsoft Office.

If you make changes to the document, those changes will show up for everyone else viewing it. Should other editors make changes, you'll see them reflected in your copy. When multiple people make changes to the same section of a document, Cloud Connect gives you the chance to choose which set of changes to keep.

So how does it work? When you upload a document to Google Cloud Connect, the service inserts some metadata into the file. Metadata is information about other information. In this case, the metadata identifies the file so that changes will track across all copies. The back end is similar to the Google File System and relies on the Google Docs infrastructure. As the documents sync to the master file, Google Cloud Connect sends the updated data out to all downloaded copies of the document using the metadata to guide updates to the right files.

Microsoft offers its own online collaboration tool called SharePoint. But unlike Google Cloud Connect, SharePoint isn't free. Businesses interested in SharePoint must purchase a license to use it on their computers. But since SharePoint is a Microsoft product for Microsoft Office applications, there's a tight integration of features that Google can't match.

Next, we'll look at Google's Cloud Print service.