Google Inc. is going back to the future by reinventing the spreadsheet as a Web-based application, seeking a simpler on-ramp for consumers to input data into databases. Software offered through Google Labs is considered to be “alpha” software, which a Google spokesperson characterized as “very experimental.” The program will be called Google Spreadsheets.
Google Inc. is going back to the future by reinventing the spreadsheet as a Web-based application, seeking a simpler on-ramp for consumers to input data into databases. Software offered through Google Labs is considered to be “alpha” software, which a Google spokesperson characterized as “very experimental.” The program will be called Google Spreadsheets. In its initial form, it can read and write Microsoft Excel files. It will however make use of some of Google’s other software, such as Google Talk, for online collaboration.
Google Spreadsheet, a free program that requires no downloads and allows people to share or work on the same document online, won’t offer all of the bells and whistles that Microsoft’s Excel program offers. And the program will only be available to a small number of users who request to participate in a beta, or testing, period. But people will be able to open Excel documents (.xls) and Comma-Separated files (.csv) with the program. The Web search leader will begin a limited trial on Tuesday of the classic software application defined by its grid of rows and columns and simple calculating capabilities that allow users to enter and organize information in structured form.
Google moved into online word processing earlier this year with the acquisition of Writely, a small company that developed a way to allow people to create, share and store text documents online — for free. Microsoft’s Excel and Word programs each cost $ 229 for a new user and $109 for an upgrade. “It is a significant deal,” said Gartner analyst Allen Weiner said. “It impacts Microsoft because Microsoft Office and Microsoft Excel are a huge source of revenue for Microsoft.’ ‘During the last quarter, 27 percent of Microsoft’s sales of $10.9 billion came from “information worker” software, including its Excel spreadsheet application and Microsoft Word application.
The Mountain View, California-based company said its free, Web-based application can be shared with up to ten users simultaneously, improving upon a key limitation of Microsoft Corp.’s Excel, the dominant stand-alone spreadsheet. “Many people already organize information into spreadsheets,” said Jonathan Rochelle, product manager for Google Spreadsheets, as the trial product is known. “Where they are struggling is to share it.” Google is joining a variety of Web start-ups that already offer Web-based spreadsheets, including JotSpot, a company founded by Internet pioneer Joe Kraus, Thinkfree Corp. and Smallthought Systems Inc.’s Dabble DB. Microsoft has begun offering its own add-on technology for sharing spreadsheets.
Google Spreadsheet relies on technology the company acquired from a small Wall Street software developer it bought last year called 2Web Technologies, which in 2004 introduced tools to convert Microsoft Excel spreadsheets into Web services.
Users can sort data and take advantage of 200 functions and common spreadsheet formulas for doing basic calculations of numerical data. Google is working on improving printing, charts, filtering and “drag and drop” features, he said.
Google Base is viewed by analysts as a stepping stone into the classified advertising or e-commerce markets, by helping users feature relevant information on Google’s main search index, the Froogle shopping site and Google Local search. Google Spreadsheet is one of a string of user productivity applications that Google has been testing, including the Writely word processing application it acquired earlier this year and its internally developed Google Calendar.
Microsoft professes to be unfazed by this latest indignity from Google. Alan Yates, general manager of Microsoft’s information worker business strategy, says he doesn’t see a Google spreadsheet as a threat to Microsoft Office. “Office is the clear leader in what has always been a really competitive space,” he says. “What we see is customers are really a lot more demanding, rather than less, about what they expect from their spreadsheet programs, word processing programs.”
Yates says Microsoft hasn’t announced any plans to offer Excel online. “We’ve seen a number of vendors experiment with this for several years now,” he says, pointing to programs offered by SimDesk, ThinkFree, and OpenOffice, among others. “There’s really nothing new here, except for the fact that it’s Google.” Microsoft has also indicated that it intends to challenge Google’s dominance in Internet advertising by providing advertisers with a new, more flexible platform.
Users interested in experimenting with the application can go to Google Labs (http://labs.google.com/) to sign up on Tuesday. An undisclosed number of users can join the initial trial phase on a first-come, first-served basis, it said.