Google Spreadsheets: The Soccer Mom's Excel

Google is emerging as the poor man's Microsoft.

The latest evidence of this surfaced June 5, when Google began testing a free, online spreadsheet feature.

This is a spreadsheet for soccer moms, Little League baseball coaches, church bazaar organizers, college students or small businesses of less than 10 employees.

It's for the otherwise curious who haven't used a spreadsheet before, and don't have a lot to lose using a potentially faulty product.

It's not for Fortune 500 companies yet. So is Google Spreadsheets any kind of competition for the incumbents in this space, namely Microsoft?

The answer seems, for now, to be that Google continues to prove with its actions it's shaping up to be a kind of 7-Eleven of office desktop software, which is likely to pose little immediate impact on Microsoft's cash cows.

Consider, for example, the first reviews of Google Spreadsheets. Bottom line, say commentators, it works. Not spectacular, could use a lot more features, but it works.

Would a large corporation adopt it? Will it win customers from Microsoft? No, say the analysts, but it'll certainly find an audience.

"I don't think a Web-centric spreadsheet offering from Google will be a successful direct competitor to Excel or other traditional spreadsheet tools," said Peter O'Kelly, an analyst with The Burton Group.

The real benefit, analysts say, to Google's free, online renditions of software typically found in offices is to expand the reach of its advertisers, which generate almost all of Google's revenues.

Any Microsoft customers Google wins in the meantime are just gravy, say a smattering of analysts interviewed June 6.

"Google may enjoy playing with Microsoft's mind," said Joe Wilcox, a Jupiter analyst. "I expect adopters to be the low-hanging fruit — consumers and some small businesses that don't own or regularly use spreadsheets. They may have occasional need for which a Web-based product would be 'good enough.'"

"The spreadsheet, like so much else — GMail, Picasa, Blogger, Maps, etc. — is about creating a platform, a marketplace, for search and search advertising. Some Google products may compete with Microsoft, but the search vendor is more interested in making money off its core informational platform than taking on Microsoft."

There's little doubt Google Spreadsheets and other Google features like it tread upon the turf of Microsoft's dominant Outlook, Word and Excel enterprise computer software products.

It's easy to see why people think that way. Spreadsheets is part of an array of features Google introduced that could be viewed as Microsoft killers.

There's Google Calendar, the day planner that matches a lot of functionality of Microsoft Outlook's calendar.

There's also Google Pack, a collection of online desktop features that compete with many of Microsoft's.

Also, Google has recently signed deals with some major suppliers of business software, including Oracle, giving it a direct conduit to an enterprise network.

Yet, growing numbers are beginning to see Google's role as a kind of accidental enterprise software king.

At best, it seems Google is building a suite of small business software to attract a larger audience to its core, revenue-making products, writes Maryanne Wolk, a Susquehanna Financial Group analyst.

"Remember, free and open-source alternatives to Microsoft Office have been around for a long time," writes Microsoft employee Don Dodge. "They serve a different segment of the market."

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