Google to Introduce ‘Lite’ Spreadsheet

Google is getting ready to launch a test version of an online spreadsheet similar to Microsoft’s Excel program. Google Spreadsheets is a Web-based application that is still in the early stages of development, offering simple functionality in two common spreadsheet and data formats, Excel and C.S.V.

Data can be manipulated, but more complex functions such as macros are not available.

“At least with this test version, Google isn’t going after the power business users,” JupiterResearch senior analyst Joe Wilcox told TechNewsWorld. “It is going after soccer moms, teachers, students — basically people that need simple spreadsheet functionality and maybe want to share that data with other users.”

That is a very different user base from Microsoft’s Excel, he added.

De Facto Desktop?

Indeed, several recent Google moves — the spreadsheet announcement, Google’s acquisition in March of the online word processing application Writely and its introduction of a beta online calendar tool in April that duplicates core elements of Outlook — have fueled speculation that Google wants to compete with Microsoft for desktop dominance.

Google, as usual, is revealing little about its vision for linking these various pieces together, if it intends to do so at all.

Wilcox does not believe Google is specifically gunning for Microsoft’s market share. The new spreadsheet, he said, “is just Google going about its business.”

Google offers online products and features that it then monetizes through search. Google Spreadsheet is part of that strategy, Wilcox said. “It is a means to an end, which is monetizing information people want through advertising.”

An Ironic Turn of Events

That may be little comfort to Microsoft, which is likely to feel at least some heat from Google’s strategy. Google Spreadsheet is not likely to tempt business users to jettison Excel. However, not all of Excel’s users avail themselves of its many features.

“What Microsoft needs to worry about is Google reaching that level of ‘good enough’ for casual users,” Wilcox said. This is the group that would move to Google Spreadsheet — especially since it is free.

It is an ironic turn of events for Microsoft, which typically invests millions of dollars in technology that it then offers for free in its operating system in order to attract users.

For example, Microsoft invested US$500 million to build its Windows Media Player, which it then gave away for free, Wilcox noted. Its motivation may have been to cement users to its Office platform, but that hardly mattered to providers of similar technology that couldn’t compete with the free offering.

Now Microsoft is on the receiving end of this strategy: Google may not be directly competing with Microsoft, but it is giving away for free what Microsoft sells in order to attract users to its own platform. “In a sense, Google is in a position to do to Microsoft what Microsoft has done to other companies,” Wilcox said.

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