Google Spreadsheets vs MS Office

Today was a day for the geek’s history books as Google advances ever-further into the realm of computer domination. Google today launched Google Spreadsheets, a technology based on 2web Technologies system for turning Excel documents into web applications.

Google Spreadsheet is currently in “limited test” mode which means you won’t be able to rush out and signup for an account just yet however you can be added to their waiting list and you’ll be notified as soon as more accounts are being accepted.

What does this mean?

For the average human being this product will simply provide an alternative to Microsoft Excel. While Excel is an excellent product in it’s own right it is overly complicated for many and provides countless features that few people use. Another issue with using Excel is that it cannot be accessed easily by multiple users and worked on without emailing it back and forth whereas this new service from Google will allow multiple users to access and edit the same document in realtime and further allow for different users to be assigned different abilities (i.e. you will be able to set specific users to “read only” mode, etc.)

Now that’s how it affects the average person. The biggest affect will likely be felt by none other than one Mr. Bill Gates. This free application (note again the word free) stands to hit below the belt the sales of MS Office to those who don’t need a ton of bells-and-whistles but just want to be able to create and edit a spreadsheet for whatever reason. I know from personal experience that very few of us require the super-advanced features of Excel but we still have to pay for them. Now we don’t have to pay for any of the features.

There have been many free spreadsheets created including OpenOffice (a very good one as well) but the hurdle they faced was in not being … well … Google. As we’ve clearly seen, simply being Google gets you a ton of test users and even more free publicity (note this blog post as an excellent example). It’s definitely theirs to lose. Google Spreadsheet is in a position where many will try it, if they really succeed in producing a solid alternative to Excel when it goes full live to the world at large they may well take a significant bite out of Microsoft’s Office sales.

What’s in it for Google?

I have heard it asked in regards to this release, “what’s in it for Google?” Spreadsheets are not exactly the place where people are likely to click on paid links so serving in ads isn’t going to be highly profitable. The service is free and Google doesn’t generally charge for services so sales or subscriptions won’t be generating revenue. So what’s in it for Google?

There are a couple possible answers to this one. One possibility is that they simply want to keep people’s eyes on a Google property as much as possible thus creating an environment in which, when people do want to search for something, the likely engine is obvious. Another possibility is that it’s not so much about generating revenue but rather reducing the effectiveness of Microsoft to compete with them by cutting into their profitable products. This I would say may not be on the top of their list of reasons but at the very least they much be considering it a very pleasant by-product. And the final reason they could be doing this is the one I personally believe is the root cause and that is to avoid the situation that Microsoft currently finds itself in.

Let’s reflect back a few years to a time when Google was just starting up, Microsoft didn’t believe that search engines were going to be a main driving force (certainly not worth investing large sums of capital in). Now let’s flash forward to the present to a time when Microsoft is scrambling to catch up to Google on the search engine front and Google, because of their enormous influence due to their dominance as a search engine, can now launch products virtually at will and have them used by millions of people. If Google sticks to search engines alone they will remain a power but a topple-able one. Other companies will be able to integrate search into applications (NO WAY … Bill wouldn’t do that right?)and keep users away from Google. BUT, if Google can gain significant ground in other areas and keep peoples’ eyes on their properties then other companies will not have the ability to “steal away” users of their search services. This I view as the most likely of their possible reasons for launching free applications as they are beginning to do.

OR maybe they just want to own the world. 😉

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