There has been lots of rumor about Google’s plan competing with Microsoft’s most profitable office product suite. The release of Google Docs & Spreadsheets made it pretty obvious that the leader of search engines is also interested in getting a piece of the office cake. When Google announced the launch of their spreadsheet people had very high expectations from it. These high expectations turned into some disappointment and people started to realize that a powerful desktop application just cannot be replaced so easily by a web 2.0 app. But what is the motivation for companies like Google, Zoho, EditGrid and many more to build online versions of Excel?
It’s a known fact that file based documents like Word and Excel have serious limitations when it comes to collaboration. Although Microsoft offers complex solutions like SharePoint, people still end up emailing documents around which turn into different copies and versions of the same file. The chaos is just about to begin. An online spreadsheet on the other hand is stored on a server and can only be opened with a web browser. People can edit simultaneously without locking each other out. Changes are always propagated in real-time. The downside of an online spreadsheet is that a user needs to learn a new tool. Microsoft Excel is a de facto standard and a web application will never be able to provide the same rich functionality as Excel does.
As a final option let’s look at a combination of both. A service called Xcellery (www.xcellery.com) combines Excel with all the features of an online spreadsheet. Xcellery let’s you share and edit spreadsheets online using Microsoft Excel itself. Changes are automatically propagated to all the collaborators in real time and a user doesn’t need to consolidate and resend new versions of the file anymore. Edit conflicts are resolved and changes can be rolled back to any previous revision. It also let’s you work offline and synchronize back later.
The demand for better collaboration support for file based documents is clearly there. For a fact people don’t like changes but accept new things if they are easy enough to learn and use. Time will tell which approach is going to be accepted.