Google's Latest Plans Up The Ante In Apps War


Two weeks ago, Google announced what many observers had long suspected was coming: a de facto bundle of its free Writely word processor and Google Spreadsheet into what it called Google Docs and Spreadsheets. The combination, which works off the Web, will give many users the quick-and-easy functionality they use most, some early testers say.

Users can quickly log onto the Google site, create documents from scratch, edit them, share them with specified co-workers and publish them as Web pages. This offering attacks Microsoft Office on one of its key vulnerabilities: Feature and function overload. Microsoft hopes to blunt that criticism with the new ribbon interface in Office 2007 that "surfaces" the features and functions on which a given user most often relies.

Google's Docs and Spreadsheets is clearly lacking some features that even casual users will notice. There is no auto-correct for example, and the spell-check option is rudimentary at best.

Google Docs and Spreadsheet exists in the cloud, meaning that users who want a local copy of their documents or spreadsheets must save them in a common file format that can be used on their desktops. Toward this end, it will save files to .DOC, .XLS, .ODF and .RTF formats.

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Microsoft isn't taking the challenge lying down. The company acknowledged in September that it might make the low-end Microsoft Works bundle available as a Web-based service. Works is typically preloaded on low-end PCswhere Office itself is considered overkill.

The Redmond, Wash., software giant is funneling billions of dollars into its nascent Office Live and Windows Live services capabilities, some of which are now in beta and which target consumers and small businesses. Many of these services, like Google's, will be supported by advertising revenue instead of the traditional up-front license fees.

Google's conglomeration of freebie functionality for business users has huge ramifications not just for Microsoft, but for the solution providers who implement Microsoft and other fee-based software. Well before Google Docs and Spreadsheets, the Mountain View, Calif.-based company had launched Google Apps For Your Business, which combines e-mail, instant messaging and some collaboration capabilities.

One small-business owner, who requested anonymity, had been evaluating a Linux-based e-mail system for his East Coast company. Before signing on the dotted line, however, Google contacted him about testing its then-unannounced Google Apps For Your Business collaboration suite. He found the collaboration and e-mail functionality to be sufficient for his needs and the VAR that was going to implement and support the Linux mail system lost the deal.

"From my point of view, Google has a tremendously well-designed solution for hosting a small business e-mail and integrating it with the calendar. There are missing pieceslike a shareable address book and a wiki," this businessman conceded, but overall he said he's able to live with that.

There was one much bigger caveat, however: If there is a question or problem with the service, there really is no one to call. "Google is impenetrable if you have problems. Luckily, and I guess it's scary in theory, if Google goes down, it's as reliable as any other hosting provider," he said.

While Microsoft readies its service charge, Google is making preliminary forays inside corporate firewalls with several Google Search Appliances. In that arena, Google is recruiting partners with domain expertise to extend its search tentacles.

These turnkey Linux-based systems promise to uncover and index corporate data residing in application silos and make it available to authorized users via the familiar and spare Google interface.