Google Doctors Up Docs Sharing

The life of a worker ant in a cubicle farm may offer its unique challenges — how else to explain the popularity of “Office Space” reruns on cable TV? — but the world of office productivity software and applications is turning out to be anything but boring.

The latest example: the Monday announcement of new Google Docs features, including live sharing of folders, the ability to upload multiple items simultaneously into folders and a general scrubbing and redesign of the Docs page.

“Shared folders work how you would expect them to, and we hope they will make it easier for teams and groups to collaborate on documents together,” Google product manager Vijay Bangaru wrote on the Google Docs Blog. The update will be rolled out gradually to all users soon, Bangaru said.

The new features are described by Google spokesperson Sara Jew-Lim as incremental changes and not especially groundbreaking. However, the shared folders features was the No. 1 request from users on the Google Docs Product Ideas page, so the company emphasizes it is listening to its fans. It continues to set the stage for long-term competition to traditional office productivity software providers — especially Microsoft, which stands on the brink of rolling out many new features designed to make cube farm life easier over the next year.

Throwing Down the Web-Based Gauntlet

Collaboration in the cloud and sharing live document work have been the chief calling cards for Google Docs, and the latest tweaks build on that foundation. “Employees often work in teams, with colleagues in various locations,” Jew-Lim told TechNewsWorld. “Web applications make it possible to share documents and files, and to collaborate in real time. Employees can be productive in ways that aren’t possible with traditional desktop applications.”

Microsoft, sensing the competitive threat from Google in Web-based office apps, has already launched tests on similar features and announced that more are on the way with a new suite of Office software products heading out Redmond’s door in 2010.

However, Google starts from a different design point, said Jew-Lim. “We’re not trying to port ‘lightweight’ individual productivity applications to the Web to build on sharing features. We believe the Web is the ideal platform for deploying all types of applications, and they can be incredibly robust. Shared folders is another example of how we’re reinventing apps with collaboration at the core to create the next generation of tools for sharing and publishing information.”

An Interesting 2010 in the Office

Google has never made a secret of its desire to chip away at Microsoft’s dominance in the enterprise market, but that remains a far-off goal for Mountain View. “At this point, Google is basically on the outside nibbling on the fringes,” ITIC principal Laura DiDio told TechNewsWorld.

“But there’s a lot of fringe out there, especially among small and medium-sized businesses, and especially among corporations that might have a lot of small remote offices that don’t need all the functionality (of Microsoft Office),” she said. “The question then becomes one of applications’ compatibility with the rest of the environment — is it enterprise ready?”

Google Docs is now being used by 19.5 percent of respondents in a recent survey IDC analyst Melissa Webster conducted of both line-of-business managers and IT specialists responsible for buying software and apps for their enterprises. The results were surprising, as the figure was around 6 percent in the previous year’s survey.

“That’s pretty darn good traction out of nowhere in two and a half years,” Webster told TechNewsWorld. “It’s grown faster than people thought it would. The question for Microsoft now is, can it block that rather viral growth with its new Office web apps? The breakthrough that Google provides is this coauthoring environment, a really collaborative offering. [Microsoft] haven’t been able to do that with the Office desktop yet. They’re getting better with Sharepoint, and now they have a hosted service. But Google just makes it so easy.”

The battle for the hearts and minds of cubicle workers is likely to intensify. “There’s a big wave of innovation coming because of Google challenging Microsoft and making them react,” she said. “They’re getting in the game in a big way. It will be interesting to watch what happens in 2010.”

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