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Microsoft takes fight to Google over cloud apps defections

Redmond strike team offering big bounties and more

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Microsoft is so riled up over Google Apps that it has a team called Google Compete offering major inducements to convince customers to stay with Office, according to defectors and the search company itself.

At this week’s Google Atmosphere conference, several defectors who had adopted Google cloud apps said that they were approached by members of the Google Compete team, who had sought to persuade them to stay with Microsoft. If argument failed to convince them, then the team was willing to offer other inducements.

This is standard operating procedure up to a point, but some were claiming that in addition to the usual billing tweaks, they were offered “massive discounts,” and in one reported case, an audience with Steve Ballmer himself. It was a chance to experience his in-your-face sales technique no doubt.

The claim was made by Michael Rodger, IT director at the upmarket Canadian hotel chain Delta Hotels. He said he was unable to make the meeting because of a scheduling conflict.

Microsoft is obviously paying attention to Google, unleashing an extended blog post just before the conference that was entitled "Clearing the Atmosphere" and slammed the Apps service. But Redmond declined to comment directly on the existence of a Google Compete team, instead referring The Register to a comment previously made by Tony Tai, a senior program manager at Microsoft, in response to the allegations.

“I don't think there is any surprising news here," it said. "In the case of Google, we find it quite common that their consumer-oriented approach falls short of meeting enterprise customers' needs, thus providing an opportunity for us to win the customer. The wise words of Benjamin Franklin often apply: ‘The bitterness of poor quality remains long after the sweetness of low price is forgotten.’”

Google says it is aware of what’s going on and is quite sanguine about the existence of the team and its activities. “I feel like they’re bringing the fight to us,” Jonathan Rochelle, director of product management for Google Docs and Sites, told The Register. “I know people on that team and they’re all over the place. They follow up on sales calls and stuff.”

Microsoft is trying to make the argument that Google’s offering is OK for hobbyists, but not for a serious enterprise, he explained. It’s an old ploy Rochelle explained, first used in 2006 when Google got into spreadsheets, and sales were going just fine. The collaboration and merging functions of the spreadsheets system were a big hit with customers, he said.

Not that Google isn’t above putting the boot in itself. Attendees at Google Atmosphere were repeatedly told that Office 365 wasn’t a true cloud solution, since it required some on-premises hardware and software to allow full collaboration – a charge Microsoft denies.

“Customers do not need on-premise servers to utilize the collaboration capabilities in Office 365,” a spokesman told The Register. “The service is optimized for the web and combines the power of Office with Exchange Online, SharePoint Online, and Lync Online to deliver e-mail, shared documents, instant messaging, video and web conferencing.”

These kinds of corporate tactics are usually good news for customers. The canny BOFH could be advised to leave a few Google business cards lying around the next time a Microsoft sales rep comes round, maybe even deck out the PFY in an Apps tshirt, and see what can be chiseled off the budget for next year. ®

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