Google targets schools with Docs & Spreadsheets

Free, collaborative, easy-to-use word processing and spreadsheets? Google and many teachers see a natural fit with cash-strapped schools and tech-challenged teachers.
Written by ZDNET Editors, Contributor

Google's recently launched Docs & Spreadsheets apps are cool - you don't have to worry about syncing up files between desktop and laptop or losing work stored on crashed hard drives, and you can easily collaborate with others - but business users are probably not yet going to abandon Microsoft Office for Google's stripped down online versions. No matter. Google is going after the next generation for its ultimate users. Google sees schools as an excellent place to nurture users of the apps and build some long-term mindshare, reports the Associated Press.

"It's the perfect place for them to target the next generation of computer users," said James McQuivey, a former Forrester Research analyst who is now a Boston University professor specializing in technology and communications.

Unlike Gmail, Google's popular email program, Docs & Spreadsheets doesn't carry advertisements. Without fine-tuning the apps for the education market, Google presents the software as a public service for schools who lack the budget for Office and the expertise to manage more sophisticated software in the classroom.

"We think it's good to get people familiar with the other things we do (besides search), but it's not like we are trying to get some kind of lifetime value out of each student," said Cristin Frodella, a Google product manager overseeing the education project.
Students generally like the programs and find they have some advantages over traditional word processing programs. Google Docs allows people in different locations to collaborate over the Internet - either simultaneously or at different times. But there are disadvantages, as well.
"It requires you to have Internet access," Palo Alto High School junior Danielle Kim said. "What happens when you are in a place that doesn't?"

Google is counting on the proliferation of Internet access to fuel popularity of online programs and storage of data in one big database. Despite Google's earnest and steadfast desire to protect privacy, storing millions of documents in one vast database raises the ire of some critics.

"When data is sitting on computers other than your own, it becomes a very tempting target," he said. "I have no problems at all with Google's motivation because I really do believe they want to protect their users' privacy. But I think they are creating something that will have the vultures circling," said Lauren Weinstein, co-founder of People for Internet Responsibility.
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