Google Mixes Up Letters and Numbers

October 10, 2006 0

Search giant Google is re-launching its online spreadsheet and word processor software, in another challenge to archrival Microsoft.
Say good-bye to the Writely brand. Google plans to integrate the two into a single application suite. The newly wedded software will go by the name Google Docs & Spreadsheets, an online productivity suite "that makes it easier for people to create, manage, and share documents and spreadsheets online."

The Writely brand will go away, but the technology behind it will continue to drive Google Docs & Spreadsheets. The new service will be free and give its current Writely and Spreadsheet packages a unified look and feel.

Users need to be online to use the service, which will run in a browser.

At the Office 2.0 Conference in San Francisco, Google announced the marriage of its online word processing application, Writely, with Google Spreadsheets.

It’s been a short courtship. Google acquired Writely in March. Google Spreadsheets emerged from Google Labs in June. After just a few months of corporate cohabitation, the two applications have gotten hitched.

The program enables people to collaborate online in real time, use a variety of file formats for importing and exporting, and publish documents and spreadsheets on a Web page or blog. The suite also brings some much-needed order to the burgeoning Google catalogue.

The applications share a common, tabbed-based interface – meaning an end to the Writely look and feel. Users have the ability to make edits in real time with others, while also specifying who is allowed to view documents. There is a joint list for all users’ documents and spreadsheets and one help center. As before, users can save and export as Microsoft- and non-Microsoft file formats.

Google hopes that integrating the two applications will make online document sharing and collaboration easier. The application merger reflects Google’s recent effort "to develop features rather than more products," as a Google spokeswoman put it.

Over the summer, Google co-founder Sergey Brin began pushing an initiative called "Features, not products," according to an Oct. 6 article in the Los Angeles Times, to simplify what has become a confusing collection of services. That article also reported that Google CEO Eric Schmidt said Google Calendar will join the company’s word processing and spreadsheet programs in a single productivity suite.

Asked about this, the spokeswoman replied, “Regarding Google Calendar, we do not have anything to announce at this time.”

Starting with e-mail, Google has been launching Web-based services and software in a move seen by many as encroaching on Microsoft’s turf. Microsoft has responded by revamping its business to focus on Web services under the Windows Live and Office Live monikers.

Google is not targeting the desktop productivity suite market place that Microsoft dominates with Office, despite speculation that it is, said Jonathan Rochelle, Google Docs & Spreadsheets product manager.

"It made sense to combine these products and people were asking for that," he said. "It does not change our strategy. This is complementary to desktop products…and lacks certain advanced features" of desktop products.

Instead, the goal is to compete with Microsoft as the company leaves its comfort zone, on the desktop, and tries to find its feet in the online jungle, where Google exists. Google’s target is OfficeLive, a rather poor and confused set of offerings from Microsoft, covering email and website hosting, that seems to target small businesses.

Dave Girouard, head of Google’s enterprise unit, told Reuters in August as Google launched Apps for your Domain: "The Google Apps platform is not designed to replace Microsoft’s core software… we are not really out there to eliminate any applications. We are looking to introduce new ways to solve problems people have been having for years."

Many smaller firms are also trying to move into the online office space, where soon they will have to compete with Microsoft’s Windows Live services.

Microsoft dominates the market for office software that is installed directly on computers. Rivals like Google, however, are offering their software online, on demand, and for free – although some get revenue from advertising placed around the application.

Microsoft recently announced that it was planning to launch its own advertising-financed, on-demand suite of office software. Experts believe that it will be based around the company’s basic consumer-oriented software package Works.

Google also sells a product to corporations and organizations that they can offer their employees and members for free called Google Apps for Your Domain that ties together Web-based e-mail, calendar, chat and Web page publishing.

The service will allow multiple users to collaborate on documents from different locations. All documents will be stored on Google servers, where they can be searched in the same way as e-mail using the company’s popular Gmail service.

For now, Google Apps for your Domain and Google Docs & Spreadsheets are separate.

World+dog has speculated over Google’s desktop productivity app plans: is it lining up a challenge to Microsoft’s $12bn Office business. Microsoft’s reaction to Google has been – big surprise – scathing:

Tom Rizzo, the director for Office SharePoint Server, reportedly slammed Google Apps for your Domain as "Frankenstein Software" because the elements are less well integrated than Microsoft’s productivity applications, server and portal software.

Astute observers, though, will have recognized battling Microsoft in its sweet spot holds little appeal for Google – why go where Corel and Novell failed?