Wednesday, October 11, 2006

Word and Excel on the web brought to you by Google

They're actually calling it Docs and Spreadsheets, but they also mean Word and Excel.

If you haven't checked it out yet, go to docs.google.com.

The implications of this release from a big giant like Google is quite significant. First the technology behind rich apps on the web has been around for quite some time now (remember the promise of Java?). But the timing in the past was not always quite right for many reasons, some due to logistics (most people were still on dialup), and maybe people were just not yet ready to use apps that they thought of as desktop apps on the web.

So we had to take baby steps with web email being the first of these desktop apps that slowly became widely accepted on the web. When Hotmail came out in the mid-90s, people were using it primarily as a secondary email account. Something to use when you buy things online (so that your private email remains, well private). And the performance and features were just not that great in the beginning, but those who used hotmail then really liked the ability to check their emails from any web browser anywhere in the world. And it's FREE, how about that?

But a few years later Google mail came along with almost unlimited storage space and features that made it behave almost like desktop email. Soon people were using it not as a secondary email account but as their primary email account. Why get stuck with a Comcast or Verizon email account when you can have Gmail and not have to worry about switching your email address again when you finally got tired of Comcast and switched to Verizon?

So now people are starting to be pretty comfortable with rich web apps and after email and IM, what other apps do we use? Word and Excel (really they're calling it Docs & Spreadsheets) on the web is not only great because you can use it from any computer with a browser but think about the number of times you sent someone a Word document and they didn't have MS Word installed on their computer, or they were on a Mac and you assumed they at least had Windows Write on their machine (which could also open Word files). The beauty of Google docs and spreadsheets is it works great on a Mac as well.

The ultimate goal is to allow people to essentially access their digital domain on any computer. So you're no longer tied to a single computer. I've been lugging my laptop with me all these years and one of the things I dread is what if something happened to my laptop. I have all my files, email and my favorite apps on my laptop. Sure I have backups but if I was in a bind and lost my laptop, it would take me hours if not a full-day just to get my computer environment back. Why be tied to a single computer? I really like the idea of being able to just walk up to a computer terminal in the library, or my Aunt's house and in a few seconds my digital domain is in front of me.

There will be lots of questions about privacy and control that will further shape the growth and acceptance of this technology. But it's truly great to see a big step towards changing the way we think about using computers.

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