Google just launched Docs & Spreadsheets at docs.google.com. It integrates the previously separate Writely and Spreadsheet product silos into a single control panel and admin area (the previous sites for those products redirect to docs.google) . This is not a deep product integration, but it is another shot across the bow of Microsoft Office. I had an unexpected opportunity to meet the team and take a look at the product earlier today along with a few other bloggers.
The new site shows all of a user’s writely and spreadsheet documents in a single list, but integration goes no further for now. The interfaces and features of the two products have also been mostly mirrored to provide a consistent user experience. For example, chat previously available only on the spreadsheet product, is now available when working on a writely document as well.
Notably absent is the ability to embed spreadsheets directly into writely documents, a feature already offered by Zoho, which has been furiously updating its own office suite (Google says this feature is coming).
Google is straightforward in its goal to excel in collaboration and sharing of documents, while agreeing that desktop office applications will continue to offer superior editing features for the foreseeable future. Still, the ability to import and collaborate on a document, and then publish it to the web or take it back to the desktop, is a powerful feature not available to Microsoft Office users outside of Office Live or Microsoft Sharepoint Portal Server. And use of Google’s online office applications is free.
A drawback of online office applications is the fact that potentially sensitive documents are stored on Google’s servers. The fact that an internal Google document about their Project “Platypus” was discovered on Writely earlier this year only perpetuates these concerns (Google says this was not a security breach, however). Google notes that individuals and small & medium sized businesses aren’t too concerned – Google’s security precautions are probably far beyond what they are doing anyway.
Questions about Google’s plans to further expand it’s online office offerings went unanswered today, and Google doesn’t even like to use the “office” name. But clearly Google intends to keep listening to customers and putting out products that they want. And if their recent changes at Google Reader are any indication of their tenacity, Google’s office offerings will keep getting better over time.