Google Docs Graduation Day

Google Docs (née “Writely”) and Spreadsheets have graduated. Two weeks ago, Google quietly moved Google Spreadsheets and the newly christened Google Docs over from one side of the Google Labs page to the other (the “graduated” products). No big announcement , and the products remain tagged as Beta (but what isn’t these days?).

I’ve been using Google Spreadsheets for a few months now, as a simple issue/action-tracking tool for one project and as a means to track sponsorships for the mobile2.0 event I’ve been organizing.

When I first heard about Google Spreadsheets, I remember shrugging my shoulders. Sure, it was a cool idea to run a spreadsheet inside the browser and it showed off Google’s Ajax mojo, but what, really, was the point? Excepting the cool factor, why would I ever use this instead of good old trusty Excel? My “ah ha” moment came when I discovered the powerful collaboration features. The ability for multiple contributors to collaborate on the same spreadsheet a
the same time and view each others’ work in near-real-time, using nothing but an off-the-shelf browser is a quantum leap.

In the case of mobile2.0, it’s enabled me to quickly collaborate with partners distributed in different time zones and to be sure that we’re all looking at the same information at the same time. This is the kind of collaboration the Internet was built to support, but somehow the big IT vendors have not been able to bring it to us.

But what does any of this have to do with widgets? At the Fundamentos Web conference which I spoke at earlier in the month, W3C’s Dean Jackson presented a vision for the future of widgets (the semi-ubiquitous desktop mini-applications – Microsoft calls them “gadgets” – that generally run inside a browser engine and are developed using Web technologies such as JavaScript and HTML).

In Dean’s vision of the future, widgets, or at least the packaging of widgets, become standardized so that a widget written for one engine (say Apple’s Dashboard) can work in any other (Opera’s widget engine, for example). Futhermore, as widgets become increasingly complex, they will become unbound from the Widget engine so that, from a user perspective, they can appear as fully fledged applications.

So… if you take Google Docs & Spreadsheets with all their collaboration power, combined with a standardized and enhanced widget framework and unbound from the browser and widget engine, let me ask a simple question. Why would I ever use Microsoft Excel or Word again?

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