Many are commenting on Google Spreadsheets versus Excel...or even OpenOffice Calc. What you have are two extremes of spreadsheet usage, from simple and sharable to richer, more powerful and complex. Excel is not seriously threatened in this scenario--it's all the other Web-based spreadsheets.
Nick Carr offers his assessment of Google's evolving Office plan. He posits that Spreadsheets makes Excel more valuable because is provides a simple Web interface to Microsoft's Office spreadsheet--it reads and writes Excel's format. Google is building a new layer of functionality on top of Office, he said. "Google Spreadsheets competes with a Microsoft product, it competes with a Microsoft product that doesn't yet exist: Excel Live, Microsoft's own web interface for Excel data," he adds.
"Google's fighting a new war, a war that's barely begun. It's the war for web services. And it knows that, for the foreseeable future, these services will not displace desktop applications but extend them. Google is happy to make Excel more valuable as long as it also encourages greater use of the Internet and, in particular, attracts more traffic to its own sites. In a way, Spreadsheets is not only an Excel complement; it also turns Excel into a complement to Google's own services and the lucrative ads that those services carry."
But, Google Spreadsheets is both complement and a competitor, nipping at Microsoft's ankles, as I wrote yesterday. The battleground has simply shifted, as Nick says, to Web-based applications.
Microsoft knows full well that office apps are gradually changing from shrink-wrapped software to web-based services, so I expect it to act quickly to Google's spreadsheet (and of course Writely, which Google acquired in March). All this demonstrates once again that the Web is the new platform, on which the big software companies are battling for dominance.
However, as a tool for collaboration, Google Spreadsheets is going to walk all over Excel. Google will have a built-in chat client and allow simultaneous editing of a sheet. This will allow two (or more) people to put their heads together on numbers even if they are not sitting next to each other. Also, since Google Spreadsheets will save your work on its own servers, you won't have to worry about sending your file around to other people -- any authorized user will be able to pull it up online. The online storage may dissuade people who want to use the product to work on sensitive financial data, though.
Google Spreadsheet usability is quite good. As ever so often, this is a Google product with no ads so far (ads might be on the horizon, of course); it’s more a tool than a site, clearly fitting into the growing array of Google OS products. The only thing I really missed so far was right-clicking rows to apply formatting changes or to copy & paste text. (It’s not trivial working around the default browser context menu, which in certain contexts can’t be replaced at all by a web page.) That, and the ability to create graphs from your data (and the help file also needs to be completed yet). But that’s the good thing about web apps; they can be constantly updated by the developers in the background without any of us ever having to install a new version.