Google Monday revealed a host of changes to its cloud-based Google Docs offerings that will put Google in deeper competition with Microsoft as the software giant readies for next month's release of its latest version of Office and its online counterpart.
During Google's Atmosphere CIO event at its Mountain View, Calif., headquarters, the company showed off the updates to Google Docs, its Web-based productivity applications offering. Google said the updates will make Docs perform faster and open up new collaboration capabilities. Google said it has spent the better part of a year rewriting the underlying Google Docs infrastructure to better utilize next-generation Web browsers.
According to Google Enterprise President Dave Girouard, the rearchitecting of Google Docs adds speed that will let users work more quickly within their browsers -- at the same speed online that Microsoft Office users have with their offline, desktop-based applications, considered a necessary update as Google continues to attempt to one-up Microsoft and woo Microsoft users to its cloud computing Google Docs and Google Apps offerings.
On the collaboration front, Google Docs can now support up to 50 users working together at once and now users can see other people's edits as they happen in documents, character by character. The realtime collaboration also lets Google Docs collaborate on flow charts, diagrams and other schematics with a new editor for drawings, Girouard wrote in a blog post.
Google also updated the way documents are uploaded, making moving files from the PC to the cloud easier, Girouard wrote. Now imported documents can retain their original structure more accurately so users don't have to fix bullets and text alignments that can sometimes shift during the upload process.
Lastly, Google added some features for documents and spreadsheets that mimic the functions of desktop software. In documents, Google has added a margin ruler, better numbering and bullets and easier image placement options; while in spreadsheets users have access to a formula editing bar, cell auto-complete, drag-and-drop columns and other features that weren't previously available.
"These improvements to Google Docs are designed to help businesses like yours move to the cloud faster and be more productive than ever before," Anil Sabharwal, Google Apps product manager, wrote in another blog post.
Sabharwal noted, however, that Google will discontinue offline access to Google Docs for an undetermined length of time starting May 3 but that the change only affects Google Docs; offline access for Gmail and Google Calendar will continue. Taking Google Docs offline is a result of adjusting to new rendering engines in modern browsers and new Web standards like HTML5.
The changes to Google Docs come as Microsoft preps to launch Office 2010, which will take on Google in the cloud with online versions of Microsoft's staple Word, Excel and PowerPoint applications. Office 2010 will hit business users in May and consumers in June. The Google Docs changes also come as Google and Microsoft find themselves embroiled in deeper competition.
Last month, Google launched a free server-side tool for Google Apps Premier and Education Edition users called Google Apps Migration for Microsoft Exchange, a tool that lets companies move e-mail, calendar and contact data from Exchange to Google Apps. Google said the tool can migrate hundreds of users at once and lets users keep using Exchange during the migration. It supports migrations from Exchange 2003 and 2007 and from on-premise hosted Exchange.
Before that, Google acquired San Francisco-based DocVerse, a company that makes a plug-in to let Microsoft Office users collaborate to edit documents on the Web, essentially making Microsoft documents more Google-like.