Google Offers Collaboration in the Cloud

Google won't admit it, but the new presentation features compete with Microsoft's PowerPoint application.

Google added presentation features to its Google Docs application Sept. 17, the latest upgrade to enrich the Google Apps platform and better compete with Microsoft in the office productivity software space.

The presentation tools, fashioned with assets from Googles purchase of startup Tonic Systems in April, will allow users to make Web-based presentations that co-workers or classmates can update and view from their own computers at the same time.

Presentations imported from existing files or created using the new slide editor are listed alongside documents and spreadsheets in the Google Docs document list, wrote Attila Bodis, a Google software engineer, in a blog post.

The slides can be edited, shared and published using the Google Docs interface, with several collaborators working on a slide deck simultaneously and in real time.


Click here to read more about Google Apps gunning for Microsoft Office.

Participants can click a link to follow along as the presenter takes the audience through the slideshow. They are also connected through Google Talk and can chat about the presentation as theyre watching, Bodis wrote.

The software adds a new graphical dimension to Google Docs, but how does it compare to Microsofts entrenched PowerPoint presentation application?

PowerPoint is a static application relegated to offline work, while Google, of Mountain View, Calif., is posing its new presentation layer as "collaboration in a cloud," a euphemism for software accessed by a Web browser that allows multiple users to work on documents together at the same time.

Google and smaller vendors such as Spresent, Zoho and ThinkFree are touting such real-time collaboration of Web software as a departure from PowerPoint, where documents are created and sent to co-workers without the opportunity to work on them simultaneously.


Vendors tout real-time software collaboration. Click here to read more.

Google said in a statement that Web-based, collaborative presentations "offer users much-needed relief from manually managing and compiling group members input in separate attachments."

"From student groups to sales teams, people are turning to the Web for help improving both personal and group productivity," Sam Schillace, director of engineering for Google Docs, said in a statement. "Putting documents in the cloud surrounded by easy to use features for collaboration and sharing can save people hours of inefficiency and frustration and even enable new ways of working together."

As usual with Googles beta releases, the software lacks certain elements, including embedding options and the ability to export the document as a PowerPoint file. The company added in a statement that the "features are still in simple, early stages" and that "updates and improvements will continue to roll out over the coming months."

Google CEO Eric Schmidt promised the presentation features months ago, around the time Google bought Tonic. Industry observers believed the search and software company would announce the tools at the Office 2.0 show in San Francisco earlier this month (Google Docs & Spreadsheets were announced at the first Office 2.0 show last year), but the features apparently werent ready in time.

Publicly, Google doesnt position Google Docs or the broader Apps suite as an alternative to Microsoft Office, but the fact that nearly each component in Google Apps is an online mirror of those in Office makes the argument an egg shell. Rather, Google regularly insists its Apps are counterparts to Office, focusing more on collaboration than productivity.

The online collaboration market is heating up. Hours before Google unveiled the presentations features in Google Docs, Yahoo, of Sunnyvale, Calif., announced its intention to buy open-source collaboration software maker Zimbra for $350 million.

Moreover, online collaboration is expected to be a key theme at Gartners Web Innovations show, beginning Sept. 18 in Las Vegas.


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