Google Docs updated, takes another shot at Microsoft Office

Google Docs, all new version rolls outGoogle today announced an updated version of it’s increasingly popular online productivity suite called Docs. The new features include the ability collaborate with 50 people on a single document (or spreadsheet, presentation), faster performance and more accurate import of existing Office files.

The enhancements come just months before Microsoft Office 2010 hits, which will include a bevy of cloud-based features.

Both Google and Microsoft appear destined to move toward each other’s sweet spot. Microsoft wants to offer expanded, easy-to-use cloud services, and Google wants increased feature depth to attract advanced business users, possibly putting a dent in the Redmond giant’s lucrative enterprise revenue stream.

The news was posted on the official Google Blog and came during Atmosphere, the company’s inaugural event dedicated to cloud computing. According to Google, 400 CIOs and IT professionals are currently at the Googleplex for the festivities.

New features include:

  • In documents, added a margin ruler, better numbering and bullets and easier image placement options.
  • In spreadsheets, added a formula editing bar, cell auto-complete, drag-and-drop columns and other features.
  • Imported documents now retain their original structure more accurately.
  • New browser technologies like faster JavaScript processing have made it possible for us to speed up Google Docs significantly.
  • Support for up to 50 people working together at once, and in documents, you can now see other people’s edits as they happen character-by-character. Also, now can collaborate on flow charts, diagrams and other schematics in real time with a new editor for drawings on Google Docs.

It’s unlikely that hardcore users will make the switch from Microsoft Office to Google Docs. However, for the masses that value ease-of-use and the simplicity that comes with not having a crowded, complicated interface, Docs could continue to gain considerable traction. Not to mention it’s free. And, another thing to consider: Thanks to hosting in the “cloud” your data is automatically backed up in a sense.

I checked my Docs account this morning, but still don’t see a way to preview the new version as described here, but I’ll keep checking as the roll-out (or “preview”) is supposed to happen over the next few days.

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