Friday, December 7, 2007

Masters of the Universe

I have seen the future of computing (again), and it's Google Docs.

Well, not entirely. And not quite yet. But one day.

If you're not familiar, Google Docs is an online software suite. If you sign up for it (and, like all things Google, it's free), you have a word processor, spreadsheet, and presentation software. I've already talked about their new presentation software, but overlooked the other elements (which have been around longer).

These are all nice, basic versions of the type of software, useful for 80% of all documents. The word processor doesn't allow for the sophisticated formatting of Word 2007, but most users don't need that. The spreadsheet may not have some of the more esoteric functions, but for general use, it's plenty good.

The real strength of the application, though is the use of the web. You can give others access to your documents -- to read and to collaborate. If two people are working on a document, they can change it in real time (and others can edit things, too -- you'll see the changes as they make them). There's also an automatic feature that keeps track of all revisions; you can go back to any version of the document from the time it is created.

At this point, this doesn't replace MS Office, but this sort of collaboration is definitely going to be big in the corporate world. Microsoft is trying to establish something similar, but their Sharepoint system is much more clumsy and awkward. Eventually, they will have to offer something similar to Google's ease of use.

It's worth setting up an account. Even if you don't collaborate, having documents available on the web is well worth the cost.