Google has released the latest in a string of new products aimed squarely at competing with Microsoft’s product range. After launching Gmail, Google Notebook, Google Calendar and the web-based word processing program Writely, Google has now released Google Spreadsheets, a hosted, Web based spreadsheet application.
While the release of Google Spreadsheets is certainly a competitive move aimed at Microsoft, the product itself is far from a serious competitor for Microsoft Excel. Early reviews of the product complained about the lack of functionality and basic nature of Google Spreadsheets. Plus, security and privacy concerns raised by some commentators cast a further shadow over Google Spreadsheets.
The limited functionality combined with privacy concerns make it unlikely that business users will flock to sign up to Google Spreadsheets in a hurry. However, one benefit of this Web based spreadsheet is the fact that it enables users to work on it in a collaborative manner and that it includes a chat window that lets you chat to your collaborators while you are working on the spreadsheet. This may make Google Spreadsheets attractive to home users who are interested in working on and sharing non-critical or non-confidential lists or tables with friends and family online.
There are other online spreadsheets available that have much better functionality than Google Spreadsheets, so you have to wonder why Google went ahead and released a product (even if it’s only in limited beta release) that clearly is underwhelming.
“The Economist’s” Alan Tobey put forward the following theory in early May (“Is Google the New Microsoft?”, May 13, 2006): “Google seems to be following the same line Ronald Reagan took with the Russians in the 1980s. Reagan speeded up the break-up of the Soviet Union by forcing it to spend beyond its means on weaponry to defend against perceived, but actually unreal, threats such as the Star Wars programme.”
“In much the same way, Google is throwing up many cheap-but-flashy initiatives that force Microsoft to spend huge sums in order to contain perceived, but probably illusory, market threats. Can we not anticipate the same outcome: the break-up of software’s acknowledged evil empire and the emergence of its captive technologies into the world of fair competition?”
Well, whether that theory is true or not, it certainly is an intriguing thought!