The debut of Google Spreadsheets provides ample illustration of the frothy behavior surrounding any move by the potentate of Web 2.0 (pick your own definition) and online advertising. Googlers tend to credit Google with reinventing product categories, such as spreadsheets, when all it is doing putting a bunch of small online spreadsheet startups out of business, and even then it may not succeed if it's notion of a spreadsheet isn't good enough. Remember Froogle? Some of the coverage focused on the Google Spreadsheets as a harbinger of the death for Microsoft Excel.
The headlines yesterday included "Google Takes Aim at Excel" (John Markoff/New York Times) and "Google Spreadsheets turns up heat on Excel" (Elinor Mills/CNET). Certainly Google is a threat to Microsoft, but a browser-based spreadsheet, already in plentiful supply, does not portend the end of Excel, even with Google's large spigot. Only the most unclueful people at Google believe that one. It portends the broader adoption of Web applications, including from Microsoft, as I wrote yesterday, and the near extinction or immenent sale of the handful of current Web-based spreadsheets.
Om Malik (Is Google Wasting Its Genius Cycles?) and Paul Kedrosky (Google is beginning to bug me) and Nick Carr (Googe Office add-on)offer some good perspectives. Mike "TechCrunch" Arrington also spurs some good discussion on Google's product strategy, or lack there of, in his post here. Also Henry Blodgett brings some sanity to the discussion, regarding Google taking on Microsoft.
PC World's Harry McCracken brings some reality to the subject matter in his review of Google Spreadsheets, He concludes that it is "very basic" and "very interesting."
When Google focuses on a product, it can evolve and improve with dizzying speed (Google Desktop!). But other projects seem to fester (Google Groups, in beta, and, seemingly, limbo, for half a decade!). Anyone want to hazard a guess as to which kind of product Google Spreadsheets will turn out to be? It doesn't need to evolve into Excel to be great--in fact, its straightforwardness and lack of bloat is, potentially, a killer feature itself. But the service does need to evolve a bit further to reach its potential.
So, the service "needs to evolve a bit further to reach its potential," which is like saying that it almost sucks at this point. Richard MacManus says that Google is like a box of choclates: "That's what makes Google so dangerous. You never know what you're gonna get."
No doubt, over time Google Spreadsheets and the company's evolving Web Office will turn out to be a decent product--there isn't much rocket science left in building a spreadsheets, email or word processors. Google will have plenty of beta testers providing useful feedback. But competitors (Excel lites) won't be standing still, and the end result will be that a low-end spreadsheet, supported by ads or a $25 per year subscription (a few Starbucks coffees) becomes even more of a commodity...and Excel will still bring in hundreds of millions to Microsoft's coffers serving corporate customers. In terms of serving smaller business, Google still has a ways to go to deliver an integrated Web Office that will be "bundled" on Dell and HP machines...