Google Carries Offline Access Ball Forward

Google makes spreadsheets and presentations applications work offline, rivaling Microsoft Office and SharePoint.

Google continued its rapid cycle of innovation for its Docs trio of word processing, spreadsheet and presentation applications April 25.

Weeks after allowing Google Apps users to view and edit word processing documents offline, the company has added the capability to view its spreadsheets and presentations offline.

"You won't need to worry about an unreliable Internet connection as you walk up to the front of the room to give your next presentation," Google Marketing Manager Andrew Chang wrote in a blog post. "Just click on your Google Docs desktop icon and know that your presentations and spreadsheets will be stored on your computer, at your fingertips."

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However, users will only see offline Docs if their domain administrators have enabled that function.

So tell them to get on the ball and turn on the offline access. The ability to do the same work in-flight is quickly becoming necessary for knowledge workers to not only be effective while traveling or experiencing hot spots of low latency, but also to stay competitive.

To enable offline access, Google Docs uses Google Gears, the company's open-source browser extension. Gears allows Google Docs to leverage information stored on a computer's hard drive rather than relying on information sent across the Internet.

This means that when users are offline, their edits are stored on their computers. When users reconnect, their changes are synchronized with Google Docs' servers.

In other Google Docs news, Google has added a speaker notes utility for its presentation application, which seeks to compete with Microsoft's PowerPoint. Presenters can print speaker notes in advance or put them in their own window when they present.

In addition, because Web consumers can never get enough multimedia content, Google is also letting users put YouTube videos into slides in an effort to enrich presentations. Check out an example here.

Some other changes to Docs didn't even make it into the Google blogosphere but were kept clandestine in Google Groups posts.

There is now "full sharing" from the Docs list, so that when users share documents from the Docs list, they have all their options in one place. Users can pick their collaborators and viewers, set permissions and see who else is already sharing the document by clicking the "Share" button.

"Print settings" is now a separate menu choice, letting Docs users click print to see their PDF print dialog box. The Docs team also brought back the ability to print from a Web page.

In other moves, more technical users can add CSS (Cascading Style Sheets) to Google documents by clicking on the "Edit" menu and clicking on "Edit CSS."

Google Docs still isn't as feature-rich as Microsoft Office or SharePoint, but it's getting closer as each month passes.

Whether these features are enough to help Google Apps pick up more market share among businesses is another story, but an important one as the computing world continues to turn to hosting software in the cloud.