Google Office Slowly Comes Into View

Earlier today, Google unwrapped the beta version of its Google Docs & Spreadsheets, integrating its formerly separate spreadsheet and word processing applications.

While Google has gone a long way toward applying a uniform user interface and delivering a unified document repository, Rafe Needleman notes on his Web 2.0 blog at CNET’s News.com that some further refinement remains to be done:

Google is also bringing the user interfaces and the feature sets of the two applications closer together. Both look very similar, and both have similar common functions, like import and export. But it’s clear that the Google apps were built by separate teams. Little differences give it away: The collaboration function is a separate page in Docs, but a right-hand panel in Spreadsheets. Spreadsheets also has a built-in chat feature to compliment its real-time group editing capability. Docs has no chat (although it does have group editing). On the other hand, Docs lets you see a list of all the revisions other users have made; Spreadsheets does not.

Most importantly, although you can see all your files in one place, the two applications aren’t really integrated. You cannot embed a spreadsheet into a document, for example. That’s lame.

Still, Needleman says the potential and the promise in Google’s progress toward a true software-as-service suite of Microsoft Office-like programs. Like everything Google does, this initiative is a work in progress, but it’s one that’s heading in the right direction and could pick up a lot of adherents.

In addition to the services’ rough edges and required refinements that Needleman suggests, Google also is missing some application services that would round out a full office suite. Om Malik notes that the pieces are coming into view, with GCalendar, GMail, Docs & Spreadsheet, and GTalk (which could provide unified, embedded presence across all Google’s Office applications) already on the board. He says, rightly, that a database application and a presentation application, similar to PowerPoint, are missing.

Google clearly has put some thought into the offline dilemma — when you’re not on the Internet, web-based applications won’t be available — with ZDNet’s Garrett Rogers discovering that "Google is working on a solution that will allow you to install Writely (now Google Docs) on your local machine." He also learns, through some code digging, that Google Docs also will integrate with SalesForce.com in some way, and that Google has provided built-in "skinning" of the product so that it can be offered as a customized, hosted solution.

I am wondering whether Google is considering releasing its Office applications on an appliance, perhaps in conjunction with its enterprise-search appliances, to provide business customers with added choice.

Google is on the right track here, and the evolution of its Google Office bears watching, especially up in Redmond, where Microsoft is sure to recognize that Google could begin chipping away at its Office franchise from below, account by account, in the SME and SOHO markets.

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