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While generally positive about Google Spreadsheets, Ericson says the program isn’t as powerful as Calc, the spreadsheet component of the free open-source office productivity suite created by OpenOffice.org.

Indeed, online versions of sophisticated desktop tools are bound to be weak competition at best, argues Stan Beer, a columnist at ITWire. “All the hype that has been generated about the new Google Spreadsheets is sheer rubbish,” Beer writes. “Word processors and spreadsheets are complex applications. They’re hard enough to build for the desktop let alone the online space….Despite all of this, as soon as Google releases a rudimentary – some might even call it experimental – online spreadsheet, the world goes crazy.”

In fact, Google launches most of its online applications as experiments – they’re called “beta” versions and listed as “Google Labs” inventions. But some commentators say they’re tiring of this strategy, and that Google applies the beta label too often and for too long. Gmail, for example, is still in its beta phase 26 months after its debut. “This has traditionally been Google’s method of deflecting criticism: if something is beta, after all, it’s not finished, and any problems can be fixed,” writes Barbara Krasnoff in the online journal Linux Pipeline.

Google is aware of this criticism. “We’ve probably abused the word ‘beta’ a little bit,” co-founder Sergey Brin recently admitted at a Google press event on May 10. “We want to enable our teams to throw some things out there even though they may not be useful for anything, but we still want to get some feedback. But gradually, both internally and externally, people have put more expectations on the things we throw out there. We need to communicate which things we expect to work well and the other things where you guys are the guinea pigs, frankly.”

Put together Google’s spreadsheet, word processor, e-mail manager, instant-messaging program, photo manager, and other tools, and it’s easy to think that the company intends to displace Microsoft as the main provider of productivity applications to average computer users. Yet Google executives consistently evade or deny such suggestions, saying they prefer to focus on the companies’ core businesses of search and keyword-based advertising.

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