Google is busy waging wars on Apple's iPhone and Microsoft's desktop application suite Office.
Google's Android cell phone operating system is a direct competitor to Apple's iPhone and soon Google will be powering tablet PCs that compete with Apple's new iPad. While there are of course differences between Android and the iPhone operating system, both have at least a somewhat similar look and feel. One difference today is that Google's OS can run more than one program at a time but the iPhone -- until this summer -- can only run one program (except for certain Apple applications). Apple will change that this summer when it releases iPhone OS 4.0 that it introduced at a press event last week.
New Features for Google Docs
But Apple isn't alone in facing competition from the search giant. Yesterday, Google introduced updates to its Google Docs suite of web-based programs that make them at the same time more compatible and more competitive with Microsoft Office.
New features available in Google Docs include a margin ruler in its word processing feature along with improved numbering, bullets and image placement and movement. They also beefed up the spreadsheet program with faster scrolling and a new formula editing bar. It's also now possible to drag and drop spreadsheet columns, according to a post on the Google Blog. The blog has an embedded YouTube video that shows off the new features.
Google also added a standalone drawing program whose images can be integrated into other Google Doc documents for making charts, diagrams and schematics.
Google said that it also made "big improvements" to its document upload feature to make it faster to import documents and for them to more accurately obtain their original structure. Of course, it's talking about documents from Microsoft Office such as Word documents, Excel spreadsheets and PowerPoint Presentations.
The timing was perfect for me as I had just finished a 58-slide presentation that I'm going to be giving in about a week. I created the first part of it in PowerPoint and uploaded it to Google Docs where I made some changes. As far as I can tell it looks just like it did in PowerPoint but the best part is that I have a colleague in another city that I collaborate with who can now make changes to the same presentation from her computer.
The coolest aspect of the new Google Docs is the way you can collaborate in real time. I tested this by signing into Google Docs from my desktop using one Google account and signing in from my laptop using a different account. I started by creating a drawing and as I drew from my desktop, I could immediately see the images appearing on my laptop PC. Of course, both of these machines were on my desk at home but it would have been the same experience if one of them were half-way across the world.
There is a consumer version of Google Docs and Spreadsheets that you can use for free as well as a premium version that can be used by companies and larger enterprises. Google introduced the changes at an event in Mountain View attended by 400 Chief Information Officers (CIOs).
Microsoft to the Cloud
The timing for this announcement is interesting in that it comes shortly before Microsoft will release its next version of Microsoft Office that will include a web or "cloud" component. For example, the new version of Microsoft Word will have a "Word Web App" that will let you edit documents in a web browser when you're away from your office and, like Google Docs, allow for remote collaboration. There will be similar web apps for Excel and PowerPoint. If anyone is daring enough to try out beta software, you can download a free beta test copy of Microsoft Office 2010 which gives you cloud access as well as a preview of the new features. The free program is for testing only and will stop working at some point in the future and, like most beta software, it doesn't come with tech support so you're on your own if something goes wrong.
And even if Microsoft thinks it has Google beat in the applications software department, it has to worry about Google going after its operating system business. In July Google announced that it's working on its Chrome operating system that will ship with new computers later this year. The Chrome OS will run all of its applications inside a browser and unlike most PCs on the market today, the computer doesn't need Microsoft Windows to run. Unlike Microsoft Windows which PC companies pay for, Chrome will be free to all comers. Although I'm not aware of any announced PCs to come with Chrome, Google has said that it is working with several companies including PC makers Acer, ASUS, Hewlett-Packard, Lenovo, and Toshiba.