Ten years ago, Google first got into the workplace productivity game with the launch of Google Docs and Sheets, its word processor and spreadsheet tools.
Google Apps may be a major rival to Microsoft Office today, but that wasn’t the original goal, says Jonathan Rochelle, an 11-year veteran of Google.
Rochelle helped spearhead the launch of Sheets in 2006, and now works in the Google Apps for Education division.
At the start, and for a long time, Google Apps was originally meant as more of a companion to Office and its ilk, not necessarily a replacement.
Fast forward to today, and things have changed: Far from those humble roots, Google Apps has become a “big business” for Google, as Rochelle puts it, representing a “very significant” source of revenue.
When it launched, the search giant was just trying to provide some handy tools, based on the ones they used internally, to help people be more productive.
“We feel we’re actually a model collaborative company,” Rochelle says. “I generally feel like we have proven internally that we would never work any other way.”
See, before Google Apps, Rochelle says, it was hard to actually work together. You basically work solo, writing or revising a file and then sending it around as an email attachment or uploading it to a SharePoint site. Then, a coworker would download the file, make their own revisions, and re-upload it. It slows down the creative process.
“It was sharing information, not working together,” Rochelle says.
The Google Apps philosophy means lots of collaboration on documents, plus real-time feedback, without the headaches and hassle of worrying about email attachments. It’s real teamwork, building documents, files, and presentations as a group, rather than doing things solo and then submitting your changes to a static file.
That’s across tools like Google Docs, Google Sheets, and even note-taking apps like Google Keep. It’s hard for anyone to do anything else once they’ve been working that way, says Rochelle.
Google Apps has grown since its launch a decade ago to be a true challenger to Microsoft Office in the workplace. Indeed, over the years, Microsoft Office has adopted lots of features that Google Apps pioneered, including real-time collaboration on documents and a browser-based document editing experience.
There have been some shakeups in Google’s business-focused divisions lately: Longtime Google Apps for Work boss Amit Singh stepped aside to work in the company’s nascent virtual reality division, even as Google Cloud Platform got a new boss in the form of Silicon Valley legend Diane Greene.
But for Rochelle, the mission stays the same: Keep pushing the idea of productivity forward by making it easier.
“The industry needs us,” Rochelle says.