Can there be too much of a good thing? Some Google watchers are beginning to think so. Leading technology bloggers’ reactions to Google Spreadsheets, which allows users to build and share simple Excel-like spreadsheets on line, have ranged from lukewarm to hostile.
That’s a first for Google, which is accustomed to winning kudos every time it rolls out a free, Web-based version of some function previously confined to the PC desktop – the realm long ruled by Microsoft. For instance, in place of the Windows search function, the company created Google Desktop in 2004. As a competitor for Outlook, there’s the one-two punch of Gmail and Google Calendar. For Word, there’s the soon-to-be-relaunched Writely, an online word-processing program. In lieu of Publisher, there’s Google Page Creator, and for MSN Messenger, Google Talk. And now, up against Excel, there’s Google Spreadsheets. (Many observers expect that, if only for completeness, Google will create an online presentation-builder akin to Microsoft’s PowerPoint.)
Until the limited beta launch of Google Spreadsheets on June 6, technology bloggers and other early adopters greeted each new Google service with enthusiasm – seeming to relish the possibility that Google was contemplating a serious move against Microsoft Office. But this time around, critics are assailing Google’s latest offering for having several technical weaknesses. And, more significantly, they’re beginning to question whether Google’s long-term strategy in the arena of Web-based software applications is good for the company, for users, and for the Web.
“When is the last time Google released a product that really changed our lives?” asked Michael Arrington, author of the popular TechCrunch blog, in a recent posting about Google Spreadsheets and the company’s photo-management program, Picasa. “For me, it was (and is) their core search engine…They need to build aggressive and visionary products, kill stuff that doesn’t work…and start telling us what Google 2.0 is going to be.”
Google Spreadsheets – like every spreadsheet program since VisiCalc and Lotus 1-2-3 pioneered the genre (and created the first real demand for PCs) in the early 1980s – helps users create tidy data tables and do basic number-crunching, such as adding up the entries in a column. Since finished spreadsheets are stored on Google’s Web servers, users can access them from any computer running Firefox or Internet Explorer, and share the documents with specified collaborators simply by sending invitations to their e-mail addresses.
But, unlike Microsoft Excel, Google Spreadsheets can’t create charts and graphs, and it lacks some of Excel’s mathematical capabilities, such as array multiplication. “It’s not an Excel killer,” writes Computerworld columnist Richard Ericson. “If you’re a financial analyst responsible for consolidating large budget spreadsheets, you’re not going to adopt Google Spreadsheets. Need a chart? Stick with Excel. Ditto for graphics (such as WordArt) or PivotTables.”