Google Online Office Suite Gets Closer

Google took one step closer to launching an oft-rumored online Office suite Wednesday by combining its Writely word processor with Google Spreadhseets to form Google Docs & Spreadsheets - a new offering that analysts say is only a start.

In order to make the Web applications easier to use, Google has reworked both Writely and Spreadsheets to use a single login and a unified listing of documents. Docs & Spreadsheets requires no download and works within a Web browser, with the ability to export documents into a number of offline formats.

"The combination of documents and spreadsheets is a natural one. I think of documents as right-brain (a blank canvas for free-form writing) and spreadsheets as left-brain (a structured framework for lists and data)," wrote product manager Jen Mazzon on the new D&S blog.

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"Different people use one or the other for the same thing. For example, if you were compiling a shopping list, would you prefer to do it in a document or a spreadsheet? I'd use a document ... you might use a spreadsheet."

Perhaps most importantly, the service is completely free of charge. This, says Jupiter Research senior analyst Joe Wilcox, is what should concern Microsoft, even if Google is unlikely to affect sales of the company's ubiquitous Office suite anytime soon.

"The bundle offers features that are fairly commoditized anyway. I see definite appeal for some consumers and even some small businesses. But I also would contend those potential Google Docs & Spreadsheet users probably wouldn't buy Office anyway," explained Wilcox.

"Google is just playing with Microsoft's (hive) mind. Scaring the troops. Sleight-of-handing the managers," remarked fellow Jupiter analyst David Card. "Consumers don't use spreadsheets. No thinking IT manager would sign off on replacing Excel with a Web-based spreadsheet."

But Wilcox contends that Google is unlikely to stop with just word processing and spreadsheets, and its arsenal of consumer services could be pulled together to form a compelling productivity suite.

"I absolutely see the makings of a consumer Web-based productivity suite with Google products Calendar, Docs, Gmail, Picasa and Spreadsheets. Picasa would be the equivalent of PowerPoint, as I presume that the presentations most consumers make are photo slideshows for family, friends and some other folks. I know of small businesses that have swapped out Outlook for Google Calendar and Gmail."

That doesn't mean, however, that Microsoft should attempt to compete with its own online productivity tools, Wilcox says. "If there is Google competition here, for now, it's more the fear Google might have or will have an Office competitor...Microsoft should worry more about Microsoft and less about Google."

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