The problem is that when Google "edits" these native Office documents, they convert the original format to the Google "bespoken" format. Then they offer to convert it back to the original format at the end of the editing-collaboration process.
There is a simple rule at work here. Conversion breaks native documents in two ways; layout and round-trip fidelity.
While breaking layout fidelity might be okay under certain circumstances, breaking round-trip fidelity is a killer for any workflow or business process. I will explain in a moment.
Ian makes another very surprising point. One that really caught my attentions. He states that Google provides "a Chrome extension that let's you edit an office document in its original format."
What? No conversion? Direct editing of a native document without breaking it?
That would be extraordinary, but I have yet to see it. If this were true the Chrome browser would be challenging Office 365, and the Google Cloud would be the darling of the enterprise.
What am I missing here?
As far as I can see, Google is not able to edit Office documents in their original "native" format. Neither Google Docs or the Chrome extension gets the job done.
This failure is quite easy to demonstrate using the key metrics of layout and round-trip fidelity.
Layout fidelity involves the structural elements of the document such as paragraphs, bullets, ordered lists, image placement, page lengths, page-numbering, tables, footnotes, comments and table-of-contents. (To name but a few :) The test here is a simple visual inspection. Does it pass the PDF test?
Round-trip fidelity is tested by opening the native document in an MS Office editor "after" editing it in Google Docs or using the Chrome Extension.
Both metrics are essential, but round-trip fidelity is critical to any workflow or business process that the native document fuels. The bottom line is that if you break the round-trip fidelity, you break the business process and, work stops!
This is why being able to edit native documents in their original format is so important.
Its also why Office 365 on iOS is such a screaming must-have-no-matter-what-the-cost success.
There are 1.3 billion business installations of the Microsoft Office productivity system. The only way a mobile workforce can directly participate in these Office productivity workflows and business processes is to have full access to the native documents that fuel these systems; and do so without breaking layout and round-trip fidelity. Office 365 provides this high level of mobile support.
Sadly, as far as I can tell, neither Google Docs or the Chrome Extensions can crack the round-trip native document barrier. And that's a big problem when it comes to legacy business systems transitioning to the Cloud. Moving your business systems to the Google Cloud means having to re-write and re-engineer them.
By way of comparison, Office 365 is a value-added proposition impossible to ignore.
Native documents matter. Break them and you break the workflow they fuel. Work stops. But don't give up Google. If Office 365 and wordSDK can do this, so can the Googleplex.