Google just launched the latest iteration in their free online office offerings called Docs & Spreadsheets. Separately they already had the Writely word processor (relaunched in August) and were testing Google Spreadsheets, but now they have combined them (dropping the Writely name) and Michael Arrington at TechCrunch got a sneak preview:
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).
The Zoho links are worth noting since there are other players in the online office game. Yesterday we saw that Steve Ballmer’s biggest concern about the Google YouTube acquisition seemed to be that it would help to subsidize free online office software and while Microsoft may trot out free online Microsoft Works to play too, either option cuts into the lucrative Microsoft Office revenue. Yes, there are functionality limitations in all the online offerings compared to full boat Microsoft Office, but as always the question is how much function the bulk of the users really need, plus the attraction of the online offerings’ trump card and possible danger point: the ease of sharing.