Google Continues Efforts To Challenge Microsoft Office

Dennis Faas's picture

Google has unveiled several changes to its cloud-computing based office application service, Google Docs. Changes include the ability to collaborate on documents in real time and improvements to the spreadsheet editor.

While Google Docs is a free service, and meant as a more basic edition of Google's paid Apps package, it is used by many business users -- particularly those on tight budgets. That explains today's launch of the Docs updates at Google headquarters, which was attended by chief information officers from 400 companies.

Google Docs Allows for Collaborative Editing

The big update involves collaborative editing, in which two users in different locations can work on the same document at once (for example, when negotiating a contract or when a client uses an editing service). It's always been possible to do this in principle, but the service has had technical limitations which meant there was an often frustrating delay between one user making a change and the other user being able to see it on-screen.

This limitation has since been fixed and users should now have genuine real-time editing. It appears this has been made possible through Google's recent purchase of the firm behind AppJet, a technology which makes it easier to create applications that run entirely in the user's browser rather than requiring a separate program.

Spreadsheet Editor Also Tweaked

There are also several tweaks to the spreadsheet editor. It's now possible to edit a cell's contents rather than retype it from scratch, columns can be more easily moved about in their entirety, and there's now an auto-complete feature. All of these are fairly basic features and critics will argue that they're things you would have expected to see in the first place. (Source:

There's also now a standalone Drawings app for flowcharts and diagrams. That's a take on Microsoft Visio, which is included in premium editions of the various Microsoft Office suites. (Source:

The changes follow a move earlier this year to allow users to upload any type of file. While only compatible documents can be edited in Docs, other files can be stored online for back-up purposes. The ability to use any format is a common one to most online storage systems and this change allowed Google to correct a serious shortcoming.

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