SAN FRANCISCO – Google Inc. (GOOG) is set to introduce on Wednesday information-sharing software that combines the company's Web-based Google Spreadsheets with Writely, the word processor it acquired in March.
The combination of Writely and Google Spreadsheets seeks to solve the problem of how people manage and collaborate information stuck in different word processors and spreadsheets by giving individuals or groups Web access to the same data.
Google Docs & Spreadsheets, as the hybrid service is now known, marks the latest step by the Web search leader to apply consumer Internet logic to standalone computer programs, a market dominated by rival Microsoft Corp. (MSFT)
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"This is not a deep product integration, but it is another shot across the bow of Microsoft Office," writes Michael Arrington, publisher of the Web product blog TechCrunch.
A variety of Silicon Valley start-ups, such as Jotspot Inc. or Zoho, offer similar Web-based applications. Microsoft offers the ability to share Word or Excel documents over the Web to organizations who have purchased Sharepoint server software.
Google Docs & Spreadsheets is currently in public test mode and available for free. Details are at http://docs.google.com.
"The over-riding reason why people would use these is if they want to share information," said Jen Mazzon of the Google Writely team.
She joined Google in March, when the company acquired Upstartle, creators of Writely, for undisclosed terms.
By allowing users to see each previous version of any specific document, users no longer need to bother shipping documents back and forth in e-mail attachments, then struggling to reconcile different changes that various parties may make.
For now, only the word processor in Google Docs displays prior document versions. Spreadsheets will eventually.
Google Docs offers a variety of basic features aimed at consumers and business professionals working in small groups. Spreadsheets can contain up to 50,000 cells or 10,000 rows, enough for all but the most heavy-duty spreadsheet users.
The software, which securely stores user data on Google's central computers, can in turn export or import any information into a variety of other file formats, including Microsoft's widely used Word word processor or Excel spreadsheet.
Users need a password-protected Google account, a modern Web browser and a Web connection.
Documents created with the Google service can be viewed privately by individuals, shared with a limited group in "view" or "edit" mode, or published to the Web for public viewing.
Google Docs also fits with a recent drive led by Sergey Brin, the company co-founder and president of products, to rein in the proliferation of partly-finished products and instead focus on finishing existing products. This rationalization campaign is known by the slogan "features not products."
The Mountain View, California company is announcing Google Docs at the "Office 2.0" conference in San Francisco this week.
The theme of the conference is that consumer-friendly approach of the latest generation of interactive Web software — known by the industry shorthand Web 2.0 — is also transforming what office workers expects from software.
"The way normal people approach the issue is to find the most efficient way to complete a task," Mazzon said. "Some people are more comfortable using spreadsheets and some people are more comfortable doing it in documents. "It's a matter of personal preference."