Google Docs to Can Gears for Now

By Clint Boulton  |  Posted 2010-04-12 Print this article Print

Now users will see changes made character by character as other participants edit documents. The sidebar chat feature from Google Docs' spreadsheets has been added to Google word processing documents so users can discuss documents they are working on.

Sabharwal said Google's acquisition of DocVerse brought some of the new capabilities to Docs. Specifically, users can group-edit Microsoft PowerPoint, Excel and Word documents, which are created offline and stored locally on users' desktops, and render those changes online in the cloud through Docs.  

Google also boosted import and export fidelity between Google Apps and Microsoft Office. Users who want to add a Microsoft Word document or Microsoft Excel spreadsheet can do so without losing any document data. Also, Google bolstered its document upload feature to ensure that documents retain their original structure.                         
The JavaScript layout engine also helped Google boost document formatting, providing better import/export fidelity, a revamped comment system, real margins and tab stops, and improved image layout in documents.

Docs' spreadsheets load faster and now boast a formula bar for cell editing, auto-complete, drag and drop columns, and easier navigation. Google, which last year allowed Docs users to embed drawings in spreadsheets, documents and presentations, also introduced a drawings editor to let multiple users collaborate in real time on flow charts, designs and diagrams. This provides a more graphically pleasing way for teams to work together.

The drawings editor will be available later today, with preview versions of spreadsheets and documents rolling out to everyone over the next few days.

These new tools are opt in. Google recommends users click "New version" at the top of any spreadsheet or go to the Document Settings page and select New version of Google documents to try them out.  

While Google giveth a lot in this new, HTML5-based Docs approach, it also taketh away functionality. Google is temporarily removing offline support for Docs beginning May 3. Sabharwal noted this Gears shutdown will affect a very "small, small" percentage of Google Docs users.

"We believe the impact will be minimal," Sabharwal said. "However, we do believe this is a critical part of the story and we are working diligently to bring it back and provide an improved offline experience using HTML5 and other modern browser technologies."

Google is certainly targeting Microsoft Office and IBM Lotus Notes with this new Docs release, but it also must combat Zoho, Cisco and a litany of even more newfangled collaboration applications.

Moreover, the real-time editing capabilities of Docs make the platform an enterprise-oriented rival to Google Wave, so it's not clear what the relationship is between Docs and Wave and whether or not a bridge needs to be built for the two platforms. Perhaps Wave will be used as an on-ramp to get more users onto Google Docs.



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