Google Spreadsheets To Launch Shortly

Google is to release a new Google Spreadsheets product on Tuesday, allowing
anyone with a web browser to create and interact with spreadsheet information.

The product will be a limited test release, which basically means first come,
first served until Google shuts off the flow. Want it? Then watch
Google Labs. Google Spreadsheets was
planned to be posted there at 6am Pacific time Tuesday, when I talked with the
company about the service earlier today.

Another crazy non-search direction for Google? Not so much, to me. People
store a lot of useful information in spreadsheets. Giving everyone a free one
does help encourage the spread of that information.

But wait a minute! Wasn’t that
Google purchase
of Writely
— an online word processing tool — what drove me over the edge
earlier this year and prompted my
25 Things I Hate
About Google
story? Yeah. But it wasn’t that Writely was non-search.
Instead, that was more about Google doing so many things that some stuff didn’t
seem finished.

Businesswise, Google Spreadsheets it’s a super smart move in the battle
against Microsoft by hitting at a Microsoft strength, Microsoft Office. When
Google partnered
with Sun last October, many expected a big push to get OpenOffice out as a
Microsoft Office rival. Perhaps that might come. Google
even said it
would put some resources behind it. But the real action to steal away Office
users is likely to come through web apps, I’d say.

Google already has Writely, a light-weight word processor. Google
Spreadsheets gives a second element to the office suite that’s being built up.
Sure, Office is a mature product that’s going to be more suitable for robust
work. But it’s also costly and a pain to install, speaking for one who has had
to do it many, many times.

I doubt I’d ever dump Excel. I love it too much. Word’s a piggish program,
but if I’m dealing with long documents, I know it will handle them. But the next
time I bring up a computer for my wife or mother-in-law and their far less
intensive needs, giving them a Writely or a Google Spreadsheets will be a strong
alternative to tracking down a spare copy of Office, believe me.

Such a change will bring them and others from the Microsoft to the Google
camp. Plus, it’s not just the app that ties them in. The data is staying over
with Google, as well. Sure, you can export it and move — but many people won’t
bother. They’ll be hooked in yet another way to the Big G.

Enough strategy. What’s the spreadsheet do? First what it won’t do — charts.
You want to graph? This isn’t for you, not yet. Charts will come over time.
Also, don’t expect macros to work. Aside from that, you can:

  • Import and export from .xls and .csv files
  • Share and collaboratively edit with others
  • Have multiple sheets
  • Select and navigate in a way Google says will feel comfortable to most
    spreadsheet users
  • Use over 200 functions, including some said to be “fairly complex”

As I said, it’s a limited test launch. When the open invite closes, the
general public can no longer get in. That’s expected to be the case for the next
couple of months (and no news on when Writely will open back up, by the way —
as an alternative, you might try Zoho
). But those who are accepted into Google Spreadsheets will be able to
invite others. After all, a key feature of this product is to be able to share
information with others. You can’t share unless your friends, families and
coworkers aren’t also in the program.

How about two tricky areas, privacy and backups. On the privacy front, Google
said there will be a policy posted explaining what’s protected when you save to
a Google server. If it’s sensitive and you’re worried, then don’t use the
program — or any similar program offered by a third party. Not worried? Still
read the privacy policy when posted and get comfortable with it.

As for backups, I
wrote before
about how a few Gmail users were upset that they’d had data go missing with no
hope of recovery. Google said it doesn’t expect this will be an issue with
Google Spreadsheets (and to be honest, it’s a miniscule issue with Gmail).
Still, if that data is important, DO NOT leave your only copy with Google. Make
a local backup (and hey, backup your Flickr photos and your YouTube videos,
while you are at it! Backup up everything you leave with a third party).

Some bits and pieces stuff. Like Writely, the core of Google Spreadsheets
comes via an acquisition, that of 2Web Technologies, which made
XL2Web. The site over there reflects
nothing about Google’s ownership, but that’s likely to change shortly.

How about the official why do Google Spreadsheets?

“We feel strongly about people creating and sharing information on the
web,” said Jonathan Rochelle, product manager of Google Spreadsheet. “Google
Spreadsheets will allow people to take
an organizational tool they already use and make it much easier for them to
share and make it accessible.”

Rochelle said he was expecting people to use it for both personal reasons
(sharing fantasy sports data) and business reasons. As for more on the why:

“We think that there’s already a large need for this product. People are
already emailing spreadsheets back and forth,” he said. “Providing something
where there
is no download and they can access from any machine we think is a compelling
reason to use this product.”

Can’t wait? As I said, watch Google Labs.
Missed out, if it closes early? Num Sum is one
alternative product you might try. gOffice,
FlySuite and
ThinkFree are some others (and

Taking on the Office gorilla, online
from ZDNet is a nice interview with
ThinkFree). I mentioned Zoho Writer earlier, but Gary Price

they have an entire office

There’s also Microsoft Office Live,
currently free while in beta. Well, maybe it’s a solution. Here’s the
comparison chart
of the various flavors, but none of them overtly say if things like word
processing or spreadsheets (core apps of Microsoft Office non-live) are

Got a favorite app that I missed? Want to comment on Google’s plans? Please
comment in our Search Engine Watch Forums thread,
Spreadsheets Launches, Takes On Microsoft

Postscript: Nathan’s

about what looks to be a live sign-up page now
here, along
with help info and the
privacy policy.

Postscript 2: There’s lots and lots of other commentary popping up out there now. If you want an easy at-a-glance view, try this link from Techmeme, as well as this and this.

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