We're big proponents of web applications around here, but there's no question that Microsoft Office is still the dominant force for documents, spreadsheets, and the like. If you work in a environment where some people prefer Office and other prefer an online option, such as Google Docs, it can be tough to keep everyone happy. In particular, the main advantages of Google Docs (easy editing from any computer, backups, and version control) and Office (increased functionality and formatting) aren't really compatible with each other. Using an Office plugin called OffiSync, however, you can begin to bridge this divide, and move a little closer to Office-GoogleDocs harmony.
The basic idea behind OffiSync is to let MS Office applications directly edit files in your Google Apps online space. As a result, if you edit a file in Office or Google Docs, the changes will be automatically saved online, such that other users will always have access to the most recent version. OffiSync also lets Office users manage the sharing permissions of the files, and create new folders in the Google space, as well as receive notifications when files change on the server. In short, OffiSync lets people use Office as an interface to Google Docs.
Installing and getting started with OffiSync
The basic version of OffiSync is free and pretty easy to set up, so if you're interested in how it works, you may as well try it out. To do so, head to www.offisync.com/download.html, download the free version, and run the installer. Right now, OffiSync is Windows only (Office 2003 and 2007), and in my case, I also needed to install some additional service packs for Office (just by clicking "yes" when prompted to do so). Once the program is installed, it will add a new toolbar and a new menu option as shown in the screen shot. Personally, I found the toolbar to be a little confusing since the icons were the same as the ones that already existed; you can choose to customize the toolbar and hide OffiSync if you run into similar problems.
From the toolbar or the menu, you can choose to open or save a file from your Google Docs account. The first time you do this, you'll be prompted to enter your Google login information. Afterwards, you'll have access to your Google Docs and Sites files just as easily as you do the files stored on your computer. To test this out, as you can see in the screenshot, I started this post in Google Docs and then opened it up in Office. When I was done editing it in Office, I saved the document (the normal "save" button or ctrl-S still works), and the changes showed up in my Google Docs window about 5 seconds later. Overall, it seems like a pretty simple way to let Office users and Google Docs users collaborate on documents, and still get the benefits of anywhere-access and automated versioning and backups.
While OffiSync seems like a reasonably good solution for getting the benefits of Office and Google Docs, it definitely has a few issues. The main problem is the formatting. Even for very simple documents, I noticed some formatting changes depending on whether I used Office or Docs. The content never seemed to be a problem, and even images that I added in Office were synced well to Docs, but some of the line breaks and text formatting would change every time I switched between the two. As such, OffiSync seems like a good option for documents where content is important, but formatting isn't. The paid version of OffiSync ($12 per year or a $30 one-time fee) does support saving files in native Office formats to preserve formatting, but doing so prevents you from editing them in Google Docs (largely missing the point, in my opinion).
The second problem that I ran across was the handling when multiple people were working on the same document. If you are editing a document in Office and someone else changes the file remotely, you are prompted with a dialog to merge the existing changes. While merging takes a bit of time, it generally worked pretty well. The main problem I ran into was that changes in the Office document didn't always show up immediately in my Google Docs window. As such, I had a couple cases where I lost some changes because the syncing was a little slow. Again, the paid version of OffiSync promises "real time co-authoring," so these issues may be handled better there, but it's hard to beat Google Docs for real time editing in my opinion.
Overall, OffiSync provides a tool for letting Google Docs and MS Office users collaborate with relative ease. Due to some of the caveats I mentioned, I think it is best used for documents that are generally edited by only one person at any given time, and where formatting isn't a major concern. If these conditions are the case for most of your work, I'd definitely recommend giving OffiSync a shot.