Google Unveils Docs Enhancements for Business Users

Google is looking to rev up the Software as a Service (SaaS) market with enhancements to its Docs platform. The goal for Google is to get more business users interested by incorporating new features that leverage collaboration as well as enhance the creation of documents and spreadsheets.

Speaking to several hundred CIOs at its Mountain View, Calif.-based Googleplex, CEO Eric Schmidt said that enterprise computing is moving away from monolithic software to Web-based apps. For Google, developing the platforms – which include Chrome OS, Android OS, and Google Apps – will continue to be its focus, he said.

Although most will not see Google’s moves as a challenge to Microsoft, it hard to miss how the new features added to Google Apps seem to be a direct response to features found in Microsoft Office. For example, Google has added certain features to Docs that mimic Office’s capabilities, such as enhanced numbering and bullets options, as well as a new ruler for adjusting margins. Another notable feature is the ability to post notes and comments to documents, something users of MS Office have been able to do for some time. Google also has enhanced the spreadsheet platform, which now includes include a formula bar, auto-complete functionality, and drag-and-drop columns.

However, it will be the collaboration improvements that will offer immediate benefits to enterprise users, especially for businesses that have several workers simultaneously working on complex documents. Now, multiple users can simultaneously compose and edit a document, allowing all users to see “character-by-character” edits as their colleagues make them in real-time. What’s more, those collaboration features extend to Google’s flow chart and diagramming software applications. Other enhancements worth noting include improved importation of third-party document files, improved imaging features, speed and stability fixes, as well as better context-sensitive help.

Many of those improvements are probably just the tip of the iceberg as Google seeks to enhance its hosted offerings to attract more and more users from competing products and platforms. “All of us, including Microsoft, are trying to move to this Web model,” Schmidt said. He added that Google’s goal is not to fully replace the incumbents, but rather to have customers use its services about 80 percent of the time.

While much of this seems to bode well for the end user, the benefits for the channel are debatable. For many solution providers, the margins earned on solutions such as Microsoft Office will be hard to replace with revenue for training and setup chores associated with Google’s SaaS offerings. Perhaps the saving grace for the channel will be the additional security services needed to keep hosted documents and spreadsheets safe from interception or compromise.

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