Microsoft plans to ship Office 2010–and the suite’s complementary Office Web Apps–in June. Among the many companies getting ready for the upgrade is…Google. Today, it’s launching an update to its Google Docs online suite that’s clearly meant to help get its applications into the best possible shape to compete with Office 2010 and the Web apps once they’re available. The new version is available to all users, but most of it is an optional preview version for now.
Among the changes Google is promising:
- Faster interfaces for the Documents and Spreadsheets apps;
- Better, more faithful importing and exporting of Microsoft’s file formats;
- More desktop-like features (for instance, Documents now has a ruler and a drag-and-drop table creator and Spreadsheets has drag-and-drop column reordering and autofill);
- New collaboration features including multi-person editing that updates character-by-character (not unlike Google Wave), instant messaging within the Documents app, more sophisticated handling of comments, and the ability for up to fifty people to work on a file at once;
- A new version of the Drawing editor that’s now a top-level member of the suite rather than an applet within Documents and Spreadsheets.
Docs’ other major application–Presentations–remains pretty much unchanged. And Google is making one change that’s sad but not surprising: It’s ending support for Gears, the moribund technology for letting Web apps work in offline mode. (It says it wants to bring offline capabilities back at some point–and Gmail and Google Calendar remain Gears-enabled.)
Google gave me early access to the new Documents editor (which looked like it was still missing a few features). Here are a few images.
The new Word-style ruler and much-improved Comments interface:
This is the very Word-like tool for inserting tables:
And this is the embedded chat window:
I’ll reserve judgment on the new version of Docs until I can try it all–and it’s impossible to render a final verdict on how it compares to the Office Web Apps until Microsoft releases its final version. (The Technical Preview I’m using now still lacks maybe the most important single feature of all: the ability to edit Word documents online.) But Docs already offered collaborative tools that went beyond the ones Microsoft is talking about. And the Office Web Apps’ two most notable features are their slick interfaces and strong compatibility with Microsoft’s own Office file formats. So everything that Google is up to makes perfect competitive sense.
Okay, the Office Web Apps have one other major feature that remains unique at the moment: They’re designed to be used as seamlessly as possible with Microsoft’s desktop suite. Google has repeatedly proved that it’ll implement integration between its products and Microsoft’s wares when it increases companies’ comfort level with “going Google.” I wonder what the chances are that it’ll roll out tools for making it easier to shuttle documents between Docs and Office between now and Office 2010′s release?