The Battle for Cloud Apps moved forward Monday, as Google announced new features for Google Docs. The enhancements help prepare Google's cloud-based office applications for the release next month of Microsoft's Office 2010, which will offer web-based functions.
The new features, which Google said provide "an even greater focus on speed and collaboration," were announced at Atmosphere, a conference at the company's headquarters in Mountain View, Calif. The event was dedicated to cloud computing and how companies can manage their businesses instead of managing apps and technology.
'Feel Like Desktop Applications'
The improvements to Google Docs are intended to make the applications "feel like desktop applications but have the unique advantages of being in the cloud," wrote Google Enterprise President Dave Girouard on the company blog.
In documents, Google has added a margin ruler, better numbering, bullets and easier ways to place images. There's also easier uploading of documents to the cloud, and formatting remains in its original structure when viewed in the browser.
Enhancements in spreadsheets include a formula editing bar, cell auto-complete, and drag-and-drop columns. Collaboration has been extended, with up to 50 people now able to work on a document at once, and other users' edits can be seen as they happen, character by character. There is also real-time collaboration on flowcharts, diagrams and similar documents via a new drawing editor.
The search giant said the new Google Docs editors utilize HTML5 and the faster rendering engines available in current browsers. It added that offline support will temporarily be unavailable beginning May 3 as it works to create a new, HTML5-based version.
Business Users Wary
Microsoft is expected to release Office 2010 to business users next month and to consumers in June, with online versions of the company's workhorse applications Word, Excel and PowerPoint.
The updates to Google Docs are only the latest in a series of steps positioning Google to compete with Microsoft. Among other things, Google has acquired DocVerse, maker of a plug-in that allows online collaboration using Office documents.
Laura DiDio, an analyst with Information Technology Intelligence Corp., said the biggest advantage Google Docs has is that it's free. Microsoft's online versions are currently available in a free beta version, but the regular versions are expected to cost as much as $500, although the company has said it will also offer free, ad-based online versions.
DiDio doesn't expect big enterprises to adopt Google Docs, but smaller companies might. "Google is not going to give Microsoft a run for their money at this time," she said, "but Microsoft can't afford to give Google" any breathing space.
She also noted that her company's research indicates business users are still wary about putting business-critical applications in the cloud, because of issues with "manageability, latency, response time, security and compliance." But, she added, users are often "as much as two years behind vendors, analysts and the press."