Microsoft and Google’s Game of “Office Chicken” is Just Alienating Users

on May 28, 2013

Google and Microsoft are battling it out on a lot of fronts, but many times there is little collateral damage to end users. Unfortunately, in a few cases, end users have been cast aside in the spirit of strategic lockouts and bickering. Two immediate examples are the Windows Phone YouTube app and the battle of the calendar. I’d like to drill-down into Google dropping EAS and Microsoft not supporting calDAV in MS Office to highlight just how much these two giants are damaging the end user and I’ll end suggesting a unique solution.

It all started with Google’s “Winter cleaning” in December where they decided to stop supporting Microsoft Exchange Active Sync (EAS). This meant that Microsoft products like Outlook and even Windows Mail and Calendar 8 would no longer work if they were connected using EAS. It also screwed over users like me who run their businesses off of Google Apps who wanted to use the calendar inside Windows 8 for use with their Windows 8 touch devices. I already used Outlook and synced with Google Apps using Google Sync free of charge. At the time, Google Sync didn’t work with Office 2013, so I was stuck with Office 2010 which is a horrible touch experience.

Microsoft could have invested some work into their offline or online calendars to work with calDAV, but they didn’t, and I believe that it was for the “Scroogled” cause, not because it’s difficult. You see, 20 person development shops or less support calDAV. At a minimum, Microsoft could have been more transparent about why they weren’t supporting calDAV or whether they would ever support it.

I’ve tried many times to get away from Outlook. I may be in the minority, but I cannot run a small business off of web mail and calendar. Some can do this just fine, but many of us need a real app, not a web app as it’s faster, has better offline capabilities than Google Calendar and has many more robust features. I tried Thunderbird, eM Client, Zimbra, but they all have fatal flaws; eM Client doesn’t support conversation email, Thunderbird requires the buggiest of calendar and address book plug-ins, and Zimbra is this odd web-app that didn’t connect with my Google Apps Contacts. For a Windows 8 touch experience, I just hid the Windows app and placed an Explorer link on my desktop to my Google Apps Calendar.

Last week, Google announced that Google Sync finally supports Office 2013. I was very excited, because this may enable me to have my Windows 8 desktop and Metro touch experience in one app. I installed Google Sync and the calendar wasn’t syncing. I uninstalled Sync and reinstalled it. That reinstall failed and it said I should reinstall Office. I uninstalled Office and reinstalled Office and then Sync. No joy. I searched for the problem and found it here. The forum post says,

Hi XYZ,We apologize for any inconvenience caused, we’ve identified an issue with Google Apps Sync with Microsoft Outlook 3.3.354.948 which can cause calendar events to not sync. Mail and contacts are not affected. Our engineers are aware of the issue and are currently investigating. You can also find this information on our known issues page referenced.

Regards, PDQ”

In other words, you can’t sync your calendars with Office 2013 or 2010, we don’t know root cause, and don’t know when it will be fixed. Thankfully, Google did provide a link that did work with Office 2010 but remember, 2010 doesn’t work well at all with touch and that’s what I am trying to solve.

I am going through this excruciating detail to emphasize a point: It’s users who are getting caught in the cross-fire between Microsoft and Google, and when they do, it wastes a lot of time and money and causes a lot of consternation. If I could punt both Microsoft and Google for office productivity, I would.

There is a solution though, and one that may surprise you. If you are a Mac user, you know what I am talking about here. You see, Macs work great with Google services, supporting IMAP for mail, calDAV for calendar, and carDAV for contacts and tasks. It’s built right into the native programs bundled with every Mac. Macs don’t support touch, yet, but if you are a consumer or a small business owner like me who is wedded to Google Apps and need a good desktop experience, then you need to strongly consider going to the Mac.

The moral of the story here is that by messing with users to play big company games with power plays, Microsoft and Google both risk alienating their base of users and driving them into the arms of Apple, at least in this situation. Users don’t like to be forced to do anything they don’t want to and want the freedom of choice. In a way, I hope losing users to Apple would shed some light a fire inside Microsoft and Google not to mess with users as this would be good in the long run.