Ok, maybe "Excel killer" is a bit over the top but I couldn't resist after Richard MacManus said not to write that. On Tuesday at 9am EDT Google will make a pre-beta version of Google Spreadsheets available. As they did with GMail's successful viral marketing campaign, if you make it into the test group you'll be able to invite your friends or co-workers to join up too so you can share data with them.
As much as I use and like Google's web properties, this announcement is another reminder that their web applications are almost all closed source. Would there be any advantage in open sourcing applications like GMail, Spreadsheets, Calendar, and Writely for either the user or for Google?
I don't think so until these applications become available in software-only form for corporate intranets. At that point, it would make a lot of sense for the users, or more properly, the IT staff who would be installing and maintaining the software on their company's hardware. Having the source makes it much easier to customize or prove to yourself that the software isn't doing something untoward.
However, if the success of the Google Search Appliance is any indication, this is unlikely to happen. What's more likely is that Google will make this part of their turn-key black-box hardware+software solution. They'll charge by the page or worksheet like they do for search, and corporations will willingly pay for it. That's because companies are unwilling to send their sensitive data outside the firewall no matter how private and secure Google (or whoever) says the data will be.
BTW, this is a nice site if you want to learn more about the early days of spreadsheets and Dan Bricklin's VisiCalc (circa 1979). They even have a version you can download and run from Windows (or a DOS emulator).