Like a sea creature taking its first steps onto land, the online-based Google Docs are evolving into desktop territory. On Monday, the search giant announced that its word-processing documents can be edited offline.
Users already know you can access Google Docs from anywhere, wrote Janani Ravi, one of the company's software engineers, on The Official Google Blog. Of course, he said, "you needed an Internet connection to make Google Docs work for you."
But that's the past, he said, as Google is now rolling out offline editing access to word-processing documents.
Taking the Cloud with You
In a posted video, the company demonstrated the process. A green arrow, which indicates the user has online access, becomes a grey circle with a line through it when offline. To access the docs offline, a user types docs.google.com into a browser or uses a desktop icon. Google Docs has already downloaded the documents "behind the scenes."
When the user goes back online, Google will automatically synchronize the two versions. To get offline access to Google Docs, a user must first install Google Gears, a downloadable browser plug-in.
Google Docs engineer Philip Tucker, writing in The Official Google Docs Blog, said he would like to move all the data and software on his desktop to "the cloud" of the Internet. He said it gives him access from anywhere, and he can search it all in one place.
"Cloud computing is great," he wrote, "but you need the cloud to make it work." Up until now, he noted, synchronizing meant saving a copy of a document and editing it offline in a desktop application such as Word, then uploading it when you were online again. Now, he said, he doesn't have to remember to save his documents locally before going on a trip, or to save his changes as soon as he gets back online.
In other words, the cloud travels with him. But the cloud is not yet complete: Similar offline access to presentations or spreadsheets is not yet supported.
No Threat to Office
Kyle McNabb, an analyst with Forrester Research, said portable cloud computing could make Google Docs and Gears inviting to users who don't have Microsoft Office and may not want to invest in it. But he doesn't expect this offline editing capability for Google word-processing docs, which previously had been available via other vendors, will tempt many Office users to abandon Microsoft's suite. Some might use both, he said.
For enterprises, he noted, desktop editors are only part of office-productivity applications. He said Microsoft, with Office and Outlook entrenched in businesses, is not threatened by Google Docs' offline editing evolution.
But that doesn't necessarily mean that Microsoft has no concerns about Google's advances. McNabb said a bigger threat to Microsoft's domination of office tools is Google's broadening offerings of e-mail, calendaring and groups.