Google tests out customisation for Apps

The company is recruiting testers for a beta of a scripting feature that lets businesses customise and automate actions in its online applications

Google has begun a limited public beta test of a Google Apps feature that lets people use scripting to customise and automate its online applications.

The feature, called Google Apps Script, will initially work with the spreadsheet in Google Docs. It will later be extended to other Google Apps productivity software, the company said in its announcement on Wednesday.

People can apply to participate in the test via a preview website, and participants will be limited to about 1,000 organisations.

In a spreadsheet, Google Apps Script will let companies automate tasks such as reading and changing the values in cells and ranges; changing formats and formulas; and creating custom functions, such as translating pounds into dollars.

"It also reaches outside of spreadsheets to allow you to send emails or create calendar entries," Google Docs product manager Jonathan Rochelle wrote in a blog post announcing the test launch, which he also discussed at the Google I/O conference in San Francisco. This linking to other Google products means that, for example, Google Calendar events can be scheduled using a list of email addresses in a Google Docs spreadsheet.

The feature is still in the early stages of development, Rochelle said, describing it as a "puppy who's still in training". Right now, it can fetch content from the internet and translate text from one language to another.

Google Apps Script is based on JavaScript, with certain limitations put in place by Google, according to Rochelle. He acknowledged that scripting creates security risks, and said Google will work to harden the feature against abuse before releasing it publicly.

The feature is being aimed especially at system integrators, who could use it to assist in migrating customers from on-site software to Google Apps.