Google Gives Spreadsheet Junkies Doc Gadget Fix

Google has introduced a new set of tools to let Google Docs users amp up their online documents — particularly their spreadsheets. Gadgets for spreadsheets now lets users embed graphical representations of their data directly in their spreadsheets, as well as publish the gadgets on the Web.

The tools are called “Gadgets-in-Docs” and “Google Visualization API” (application programming interface), the latter of which is designed for developers and lets them create more complicated visualizations that can access multiple sources of structured data and be reused or shared.

For non-developers, getting started with Gadgets-in-Docs is straightforward, at least in a spreadsheet, which is the only application ready now. Plus, users can publish their gadgets to their iGoogle pages — or any Web page for that matter.

Spreadsheet Addicts

“Whenever we’re asked ‘How do people use Google spreadsheets?’, we always struggle with where to start,” Jonathan Rochelle and Nir Bar-Lev, Google Docs product managers, posted on The Official Google Blog.

“It’s not that we can’t think of examples, it’s just that the examples are all so different, so unique. Sure, there are definitely favorite themes — sports, finance and, yes, knitting — but then the examples become so particular to the people and groups who are using them: The beer taster’s results. The nursery school class schedule. The biker’s riding log. The family reunion plan. The ski-trip sign-up form. Endless examples, all of which, to spreadsheet junkies like us, are interesting,” Rochelle and Bar-Lev noted.

“But while we’ve always wanted to give people more options to view and use their information in Google Docs, we knew that trying to build all of these one at a time would simply serve too few people, given all the different ways people use and share spreadsheets,” they added.

Functionality Plus Expansion

The new Google Gadget capabilities cover two major bases: an increase in functionality that lets users embed handy graphical representations of their data in spreadsheets and the ability to publish or extend those representations on the Web.

Using the API, some third-party developers have already created cool gadgets available to users, like the FusionCharts Funnel Widget, which lets users create animated funnel charts. There’s also standard pivot table charts, as well as the Motion Chart gadget that lets users show several data indicators over time.

Heading for the Enterprise?

Though Google Apps is a free online suite of utilities, users sometimes find it lacks some of the functionality of desktop suites like Microsoft Office, so any improvements in functionality like Google’s new Gadget capabilities are welcome to business customers and potential business customers. That’s where Microsoft earns so much of its MS Office revenue. Still, how’s the picture of Google Apps in the enterprise — as opposed to smaller businesses — right now?

“There is something like 500,000 organizations that have signed on to Google Apps, but only a very small portion of those are enterprise accounts outside of higher ed, and that’s Genentech, so that’s not terribly impressive, but every time we do a collaboration strategy project or an information workplace strategy project with an enterprise customer that’s trying to figure out what their direction will be, what their strategic vendors will look like — Google always comes up,” Erica Driver, a principal analyst for Forrester, told TechNewsWorld.

“They want to know if it’s ready, when it’ll be ready, how they could use it, so Google Apps is still top of mind,” she added, noting that the appeal of Google Apps often comes back to its inexpensive cost compared to MS Office, as well as its ease of deployment.

“What holds customers back are a few things,” she said.

“The functionality is minimal compared to Microsoft Office 2007, and Google Apps doesn’t integrate with what people already have — their enterprise content management systems, their line of business applications. So if you look at Microsoft as an example, their presence engine gets used to drive presence through all enterprise applications, which isn’t the same with Google Talk. So it’s a very different approach,” she explained.

Driver also noted that most enterprise interest at this time tends to be when organizations want to extend at least some baseline level of functionality to people in the organization that don’t already have office solutions available.

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