Friday, September 21, 2007

Google Ratchets Up Fight for Desktop With PowerPoint Rival

Google is amping up its pressure on Microsoft with Presentations, the latest addition to its suite of free, Web-based productivity applications. The tool, which provides functionality similar to that of PowerPoint, allows collaborators to work together on developing a slide show.

Google (Nasdaq: GOOG) has added the third leg to its online suite of office applications. The new addition, dubbed "Presentations," is analogous to Microsoft (Nasdaq: MSFT) PowerPoint. Now that Google has a full-fledged productivity suite, it has shortened its name from "Google Docs and Spreadsheet" to simply "Google Docs."

After logging in to access the suite, users will find presentation files listed alongside documents and spreadsheets in the Google Docs list. They can be edited, shared and published using the Google Docs interface.

As with the other Google applications, Presentations allows several collaborators to work on a slide deck simultaneously. When it's time to make a presentation, participants are connected through Google Talk to follow the slide show. The Presentations application is available in 25 languages.

Google incorporated the presentation, creation and document conversion technology it acquired from one of its many recent acquisitions -- Tonic Systems, which is based in San Francisco and Melbourne, Australia. Presentations' main selling point is its online accessibility, which is Google's specialty.

"We've already freed those of you working in teams from the burdens of version control and e-mail attachment overload when going back and forth on word processing and spreadsheets," Sam Schillace, engineering director, wrote in a blog posting in April, when news of the forthcoming Presentations was first announced.

"It just made sense to add presentations to the mix," he added. "After all, when you create slides, you're almost always going to share them. Now students, writers, teachers, organizers, and, well, just about everyone who uses a computer can look forward to having real-time, Web-based collaboration across even more common business document formats."

PowerPoint Killer?
Of course, it took little time after Google made its initial announcement for the market to speculate on the impact Presentations will have on Microsoft Office. The simple story line has been that Google is seeking to establish parity with Microsoft on the desktop with the development of its own office suite of productivity applications.

To a certain extent, Microsoft is feeling competition -- and not just from Google.

"It is interesting that Google makes its announcement the same week that IBM is expected to roll out its Symphony application suite," Charles King, principal with Pund-IT Research, told TechNewsWorld. "There is a growing number of Web-based or open source alternatives to Microsoft Office."

Smaller companies, in particular, are likely to be intrigued by the offerings, he continued. "If a company is using Office currently and looking out at the eventual cost of migrating not only to Office 2007 but also to Vista, the option of moving to a free or Web-based application like Google Docs can be appealing."

Limits to Enterprise Adoption
However, Microsoft Office's mainstay -- the enterprise -- is unlikely to be swayed by Google Docs, according to King. "I have trouble imagining the largest companies shifting to Google Docs, at least as it stands right now."

Google Docs is likely to play more of a supporting, or complementary, role in the enterprise, predicts Greg Sterling, principal of Sterling Research.

"There are certain preferred uses for the Google software -- the idea of one-to-many collaboration among them," he told TechNewsWorld. "Also, its resolution is very good, considering it is an online application."

It's unlikely that Google Docs will become a replacement for Microsoft Office on the desktop, in Sterling's view. However, some of the developers of niche meeting applications may have cause for worry.

"You can use Google Docs to run a conference call for instance," he said.

Another potential class of users may consist of people who are less than thrilled with the glitch-prone presentation software currently on the market.

"Personally, I'm ecstatic to hear that Google is considering a presentation addition, and I would be among the first in line to try it out," Chuck Sanchez, director of public relations for Haute PR, told TechNewsWorld.

"Prior to -- and often during -- every big meeting, there are technical difficulties that turn what should be a simple plug-and-play into a convoluted delay," he explained. Common mishaps include delays while searching for the correct plugin, finding a misplaced flash drive or locating the correct cord to connect a laptop to a projector.

"Allowing large presentations to live online means that they can be as portable as every respectable room with Internet access -- let alone a conference room," he said. "No one will be able to forget the disk or CD with their presentation, and if Google does things correctly, there shouldn't be the extreme delay of waiting to transfer, or even open, a huge Powerpoint presentation."