Vaughan-Nichols: Google Spreadsheets No Threat to Microsoft

OK, so it is rather neat that Google is releasing a Web-based spreadsheet, but come on, is it really that big a deal?

According to Britain's Guardian newspaper, when you compare the spreadsheet to "Writely [Google's online word processor], Google's existing blogging tool, Instant Messenger service, e-mail product, calendar and Web page creator, the spreadsheet application gives the company a full suite [that] can compete directly with Microsoft's best-selling Works and Office software."

OK, I'll give you Works, but Office? Puh-lease!

Google's own executives don't say they're competing with Microsoft Office. That's a good thing, because when you compare Writely and Google Spreadsheets to Word and Excel, it's not even close.

Make no doubt about it. Google kicks Microsoft's rump at some things. When it comes to search, there's no comparison. And, personally I'll take Gmail and the Google Calendar over Outlook any day of the week.

But all this hype about how Google is going to be taking Microsoft to some Silicon Valley fight club and laying it out cold is wishful thinking.

Web-based applications have not replaced, and will not ever replace, desktop-based applications.

• Google's Sergey Brin pitches net neutrality to Congress, and admits his company may have mishandled Chinese censorship demands.

I have heard until I'm sick of it about how centralized, network-based applications are the wave of the future. I heard back in the mid-'80s, and here in the mid-'00s, I'm hearing it again.

It doesn't work because the Pandora's Box of the PC was broken open decades ago and people want control of their applications on their desktops. We can talk about how wonderful it is to share information and data, but people don't want to share their work.

The other problem is that no one really wants to trust their work to some computer out there somewhere which is always one busted Internet connection away from being completely inaccessible.

It's one thing to keep data you use less often out there in the Internet cloud somewhere, it's another thing entirely to keep data you work on every day out there in Web-land.

Amusingly enough, Microsoft, with its Office Live and SharePoint plans, also wants to close Pandora's Box. What's funny about that is that Microsoft has always been PC-centric and was slower than a car stuck in a mountain of mud when it comes to adapting to the Internet.

No, the real power for any office suite will continue to remain on the desktop. And, as it happens, there already a better and free alternative to Microsoft Office for the desktop:

OpenOffice is what can really give Microsoft's near-monopoly in the office suite stakes a run for its money. And, unlike the Google applications, it's already fully here, with Microsoft Office file and macro compatibility.

Now, I'm not going to lie to you and tell you that OpenOffice's Calc can do everything and anything that Microsoft Excel can. It can't.

Excel, to me, has always been the one shining jewel in Microsoft's application suite. It really is a great program. It's the one program that Microsoft has produced that I'm sure would have risen over its rivals — Lotus 1-2-3 and Quattro Pro — even without Microsoft's take-no-prisoners sales approach.

However, Calc does give users 95 percent of Excel's functionality for the same price as the Google applications: zero, nothing, nada.

Besides, Calc will do everything that the vast majority of spreadsheet users will ever want to do. It's only Excel wizards, and people who must use spreadsheets designed by them, who should stick to Excel.

So, if you really want to use something other than Microsoft Office for your office suite and pay nothing for it, it's to the open-source you should be looking, not Google. Senior Editor Steven J. Vaughan-Nichols has been using and writing about operating systems since the late '80s and thinks he may just have learned something about them along the way. He can be reached at

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