Google Docs & Spreadsheets: The New Online Office Application

Earlier today saw the release of Google Docs & Spreadsheets, a combination of Writely and Google SpreadSheets, packaged into what is undoubtedly the beginning of an online office application from the search engine. Writely comes with a new Googlized interface, and while Google Docs is more a combination of existing products it should be seen as a clear message to Microsoft that Google is making it’s way into the online office space.

Much of the focus will be on collaboration between multiple users who can work together on documents in real time, by allowing several users to access them from one central server. Google previously released Google Apps for Your Domain, a free combination of email, IM, calendar, and web page creation software. It would be easy to see Apps and Docs eventually combined into one office suite.

Features Of Google Docs

Docs provides the basic features you would associate with a Word Processor or Spreadsheet application if not quite as feature rich as standalone software. You can import and export files in a variety of formats, including those for Word and Excel. Data is stored securely on Google servers and you can keep documents private or public, and you can see prior versions of the same document. Revisions are not currently available on the spreadsheet side, but are expected before long.

Taking Docs For A Test Drive

I thought I’d sign up for Docs & Spreadsheets and see for myself. If you already have an existing Google account, and who doesn’t at this point, all you’ll need to do is sign in. The first thing I noticed was a message letting me know who I was logged in as, which is nice since I have two accounts, and letting me know if I have Writely documents under a different account I could import them to Docs. I don’t have anything to migrate, but it’s a nice touch.

The office suite presents a familiar Google interface, Ajaxified as with all other Google application and it’s easy to use, especially if you’re used to other Google applications like gmail. I clicked first on the settings option and noticed I could use Docs to publish to a blog, tag my documents, and publish via RSS.

Back at the Docs & Spreadsheets home page I can create a new document, a new spreadsheet, or upload a file. Clicking on Upload I see I can also get started by emailing a file to my account with an email address unique to my account at the domain. Another nice touch.

Creating a new document presents me with a common enough toolbar with all the familiar options I would expect of a word processor. There’s another toolbar if I need to insert something into the document. I can view Revisions of my document, though I don’t have any at the moment and can even edit the HTML for the document should I choose. Once back at the home page my new document ‘Untitled’ now shows among my active documents

Similarly a new spreadsheet presents me with toolbars to edit my spreadsheet, sort it, or work with formulas. I tried adding a formula to sum three numbers, but had some trouble, probably due more to my lack of spreadsheet experience than anything else. There is an impressive list of formulas to work with from different disciplines. (Math, Financial, Logical, Date, Lookup, Statistical, Text, and Info)

Back at the home page again my new spreadsheet ‘Test Sheet’ (I saved this one with a name) is now listed among my active documents. My untitled document has the option to share with other users. though the spreadsheet will be mine and mine alone for now. I forgot to mention the usual Google search box which is offering me the options to search either my docs & spreadsheets or the web.

Closing Thoughts

One last thing I looked at was the link for ‘all my services’ and I can see I’ve signed into a few Google services over the last few months. Google’s even been kind enough to suggest a few services I haven’t tried, at least not with the account I’m currently signed into.

The new office suite looks pretty good. I’ll probably be sticking with the standalone software I have on my laptop, but not because Google Docs lacks anything I need. More because I prefer to keep my information locally. Were I in need of collaborating this would be a good option and with the ability to upload files I could always decide to collaborate with someone at a later time.

As per usual there’s a very light BETA under the Google logo and you can find out more at the Google Docs & Spreadsheets Help Center or just login in with one of your Google accounts and learn while you go. If you figure out the how to get the sum formula working please let me know.

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