Google Spreadsheets: the big picture...
Jun 6, 2006
I think labelling such an early version of the service a failure is a bit short-sighted. At the same time, calling it an Excel-killer is just plain silly. Instead, how about a different perspective? From an end-user's standpoint, I personally see Google Spreadsheets as a complementary service to desktop applications like Microsoft Office. Office is a solid, mature application suite that has virtually become the standard for word processing, spreadsheets, and presentations, among other things. It's going to be hard, if not impossible, for a brand new web app to achieve feature-parity with a desktop application that's been around for more than a decade.
At the same time, Google Spreadsheets gives users something that the standalone version of Office lacks - realtime, collaborative editing, and document sharing. Of course, that's what SharePoint is for, I hear some people say, but that's an additional investment over and above the cost of Office itself - you need to pay a monthly/yearly fee for a managed SharePoint hosting service, or you need to purchase a Windows Server 2003 license and set up your own SharePoint server.
The fact that Google Spreadsheets allows users to freely import and export to Excel means that it's actually adding value to Office rather than pulling existing users away from it. You could, for example, use Google's service to edit some files on a public computer connected to the internet anywhere in the world, save them, and download them when you're back at your desktop. Or you could collaboratively work on populating the data in a spreadsheet for a project with a group of friends, and then export your work to Excel if you need to create charts or pivot tables. If all you had was a standalone copy of Office, you'd have to email files back and forth, and merging contents would be messy, tedious and time-consuming. There are so many scenarios in which having a free, online collaborative editing service like Spreadsheets just makes life simpler.
Often, people's obsession with picking winners and losers makes them blind to the fact that two products or services from two different companies can sometimes work really well together. I think this is one perfect example where that's the case.