Is the world going to collapse if we own up to the fact that some Internet-based applications are a huge pain? I doubt it, but not everyone seems to agree.
I attended the recent Salesforce.com Dreamforce conference in San Francisco, where it was inevitable that there was a lot of Web applications hype.
That hype is somewhat justified in the case of Salesforce.com itself, which has around half-a-million paid subscribers using its CRM and other online tools, and is, according to CEO Marc Benioff's reckoning, now one of the top 40 software companies.
Users appear to like Salesforce.com because it does what it says on the label, doesn't cost a fortune, and is accessible everywhere. Many other Web 2.0 apps have similar aspirations. But it doesn't follow that they're all actually worth using.
The much-discussed Google Spreadsheet is a good case in point. Benioff is clearly a fan and he raved about its ability to share spreadsheets among multiple users -- he used this to take a typical pot-shot at Microsoft -- during his keynote speech.
"It's fairly incredible that Excel has been around for 20 years, and they don't have anything like that," he said.
Well, that's true but Excel does have a number of other advantages. To name a few at random: it actually works at a decent speed -- Google Spreadsheet is particularly slow on non-US Internet connections -- it has a proper range of keyboard shortcuts, its lets you set sensible options like the direction the cursor moves as you enter data, it can handle more than 20 sheets in a single document, and it enables you to work on planes and in other disconnected locations.
Google Spreadsheet also still has rather unpredictable results if you import an Excel spreadsheet of any complexity. Given Microsoft's dominance in this space, that's one feature that will need to get fixed fairly promptly, if Google engineers can spare the time from buying YouTube and other such distractions.
In the meantime, frankly, it's not that compelling.
Angus Kidman travelled to San Francisco as a guest of Salesforce.com.