Google to Launch Web-based Spreadsheet App

The WSJ is tipping that Google is set to release on Tuesday a web-based spreadsheet app named, wait for it, Google Spreadsheet. Ooooooh!  A name only an engineer could love.

Anyway, alongside Writely does anyone still think that Google has no interest in hitting Microsoft where its profits live? (And does anyone still believe a word from Eric Schmidt?) I still think straight-up competition is a mistake — Writely and Google Spreadsheet are unlikely to be orthodox competitors for Word and Excel — but it will be interesting to see what ideas Google has for the stale category.

[Update] Om says that it’s not iRows, but supposedly something more related to XL2Web. Markoff has more.

[Update^2] You know, this sort of thing from Google is beginning to bug me. Google reminds of an over-eager puppy: Just happily waving its tail around, and then sh***-ing in markets. It did it with Google Analytics, and now it’s doing it with Google Spreadsheet. Where Microsoft used to ruin markets by taking all the revenues to itself, Google takes a nuclear winter approach wherein it ruins markets by freezing them and then cutting revenues to zero.

But how seriously are real users supposed to take this stuff? Google could cut off any of these playtoys anytime, doubly so if they ever whiff on a quarter and investors force them to focus on things that generate revenue. Damned if you commit to one of these services, and damned if you don’t.


  1. if that’s what they wanted to do, they should have bought thinkfree office instead.

  2. Good point. I liked Thinkfree Office in its day.

  3. Interesting. How can Google steal a march on Yahoo, etc who only offer online notepads or basic word processing tools? Aha – spreadsheets!
    Great news if it’s compatible with Excel.

  4. are we sure its not a buyout of a spreadsheet app company ?e.g Dabble ?

  5. Bill ODonnell says:

    “Google takes a nuclear winter approach wherein it ruins markets by freezing them and then cutting revenues to zero.”
    Hmm, kind of reminds us of what Microsoft did to Netscape, no? And what they tried to do to Quicken, via Money. (Intuit doesn’t really make any money on Quicken any more, so they were reasonably successful there. If it wasn’t for Tax, Intuit would be dead or nearly so.)
    Finally somebody is adopting Microsoft’s strategy: safe cash cow over here, hit competitor’s cash cows where you can, sucking all the life out of them.
    (And a bunch of Writely folks are ex-Intuit, so it’s coming around…)

  6. cabbott says:

    It’s ironic that my first ever comment on your site is a pan because I’m a great fan of your blog. But your constant Google bashing is beginning to bug me. Please stop obsessing on how much time Google’s managers are letting employees waste! And about Google’s supposed MS focus. If they were out to kill MS Office they’d back existing free Office clones. That’s completely different from what they’re actually doing, which is exploring new paradigms (interesting ones at that) for doing what we currently do with MS Office. You advise that they shouldn’t go for a straight up competition, that’s right and they clearly are not. (And yes, I still believe what Eric Schmidt says.)

  7. I don’t see the point. I use Writely because I like it, not ‘cos it’s now owned by Google. I like NumSum – cos it does the job I want of a spread. Why would I want the pantomime horse that Google is becoming? Better still, if Zoho gets its act fully together, I’d probably consider a switch. Why? Because if anyone’s going to do this online office apps stuff then they damned well better have it all integrated properly. That WOULD be different.

  8. Michael Robinson says:

    Even the mother of all cash cows (the Win32 desktop monopoly) isn’t sacred:

  9. Martin Paulo says:

    But as you say, you are allowed to ruin markets. And it is quit brilliantly audacious – how do you stop Microsoft from cutting of your air supply – why, try to cut theirs off first. Us mice will get trampled when these elephants dance, but isn’t capitalism wonderful?

  10. Dennis:
    Thanks for the continued faith & belief in Zoho. We sure will be integrating our services under a single sign-on soon. What’s more we are already onto integrating Zoho services eg., you can embed Zoho Sheet’s charts inside Zoho Writer. Coming soon.

  11. Google is directly competing with open source projects like OpenOffice and Sun’s free StarOffice.
    Google acquired Writely (word processing) and now has a spreadsheet. There was speculation last year that Google would partner with Sun to offer a version of StarOffice. Instead Google has decided to go its own way and compete with OpenOffice and StarOffice.
    C/Net says “Google spreadsheets turns up heat on Excel” I don’t think so. Microsoft Office is a powerful, industrial strength, client based, information worker productivity platform. Microsoft Office is moving beyond just being a collection of applications (Word, Excel, PowerPoint) to being a server based application platform for ISVs. Lots of companies run their business on Excel spreadsheets. Now creative start-ups are using Office as a front end User Interface to a whole variety of business applications.
    I wrote a blog on this subject today

  12. I’ve never really considered Google a serious competitor to MS & their Office products for corporate use (heck there’s OpenOffice for that). I think the challenge with Google is they’ve become such a big Gorilla that they can’t help but plunk themselves into a bunch of industries.
    Our business is in the translation management space and there’s been a lot of brow-furrowing over Google’s Langauge Tools. They’re some of the best in the world but I don’t believe for a second they view them as an immediate revenue model.
    At the end of the day I believe Google is all about creating, storing, organizing and delivering all of the world’s content and then monetizing the eyeballs with precision advertising. I’d be keen though to know the depth of “Google Trends” type info that is being aggregated in the background on these collaboration/authoring tools. Spreadsheets is just a +1 on their sticky factor (and +1 on their “Poke MS just cause we can” factor).

  13. Don — Thanks for the comment.
    I don’t disagree, but I think the parallels with mainframe-makers’ reaction to PCs are instructive. They also thought the newcomer was a toy, and pointed to their industrial strength product. Buyers turned out not to care as much as they hoped, however.
    The real question? Whether Google Spreadsheets is “good enough” for people who are mostly online, and who are interested in rudimentary analysis, basic data storage, and to whom sharing is important.

  14. Google Spreadsheet might be very useful from a usability point-of-view for Google Base / Sitemaps users. Any of the several products Google has that depends on collecting user generated lists will benefit from having this tool available for editing of those lists directly from a browser.
    It also allows management of product lists and data uploads to be accessible to those people who don’t have Office.
    As for believing Eric Schmidt, probably the only person who really buys into his spiel is Eric himself.

  15. “Where Microsoft used to ruin markets by taking all the revenues to itself, Google takes a nuclear winter approach wherein it ruins markets by freezing them and then cutting revenues to zero.”
    I disagree. Many of these web based spreadsheet apps are built to flip. Now Google just upped the ante and I’m sure Yahoo, Miscrosoft and others want to spend looking to buy those companies or cherry pick that talent.

  16. I for one have never understood Microsoft’s Office Live strategy. Google’s is a little clearer: stifle Microsoft. That said, I’d like to see them both aim higher and focus on co-ordinating and delivering huge data sets that start-ups can’t tackle. Things like Google maps did with the help of NavTeq.
    Do that, deepen relationships with developers and the like (i.e. give them tools like APIs) so you have those relationships established when you need them when you need them – in the next leg of the race. Basically I’d say it’s too early for these guys to bother with Office apps…they’re aiming to low and I’m betting it will bite them.

  17. i think people are shaping this as a MSFT-GOOG battle, and it might eventually turn out that way, but in the short-run i agree with Don — this is much more of a competitor for other open source / non-MS hosted spreadsheet apps & office suites that it is an Excel competitor. seems more like the ‘Linux vs SunOS’ battle, than the ‘Linux vs Windows’ battle, tho in the long-run i guess it might end up in that arena.
    more interestingly, i wonder if there isn’t market segmentation that Google sees where they can pickup folks who just want simple tools for writing, spreadsheets, and perhaps a few others (hosted db tools like DabbleDB do come to mind). we’re not talking full-blown productivity tools, but rather more like widgets-on-steroids that work as nice add-in components to normal webpages / blogs.
    still, no doubt this will wake up Microsoft to consider whether there are markets where they could be building simpler products… but still very hard for them to move quickly, and harder still not to cannibalize their existing products if they tried to develop a skinnier offering.
    so in the end this may not be a giant opportunity for Google, but it’s one they can & will use to try and cobble together an overall strategy for hosted personal productivity tools — which *is* likely a big opportunity for them over time.
    meanwhile, microsoft can’t do much here… too many cash cows at stake for them to respond aggressively, and in the short-term this won’t have much impact on Excel/Office revenues.
    still, i am reminded of the question about how do you boil a live frog… (A: very slowly 😉
    – dave mcclure

  18. Have any of these Google Lab project caught any steam? The answer is no.

  19. I dont think this product by google is going to compete with microsoft Excel. It’s just an online collaboration tool, a nice direction no doubt for spreadsheet softwares, but wont work where sensitive data is concerned. For making grocery lists with your wife over the net it’s great… ad it;ll be nice to see this tool integrated with google calendar and google base.

  20. Google has a bad case of “build a better mousetrap and the world will beat a path to your door” syndrome. Sometimes, yes, as with PageRank. Mostly – like 98% of the time – no.
    It is time for some layoffs at Google – starting with Schmidt and going down through everyone with responsibility for developing market share. You are young, rich, and [currently] perceived as successful. There is no better time to go.
    More here.

  21. >Have any of these Google Lab project caught any steam? The answer is no.
    Erm, the answer is yes. Google Maps.

  22. Your thoughts are based on the conjecture that Google *wants* to hit MicroSoft where its profits live?
    Why would it want to do that? Google has not called openly and publicly for any sort of vengeance.
    Now, twist your conjecture slightly. Assume that Google is happy with the Web as the Market. And that it is willing to let Microsoft enjoy its position in the Desktop Market…
    Do you now begin to see something?
    Yes, It is a Crazy Little Thing called (Google) Love, it is..

  23. Joe David says:

    Google is a company that has a single revenue source, while MS is much more diverse. All these nice free tools from Google do not change this fact, and eventually, when MS starts hurting Google in the ad space, all these free nice tools will disappear. Imagine MS launching a commission-free AdSense competiror.

  24. This is out out of the “innovator’s dilemma”
    playbook. Launch a (free) product that is good
    enough – and hope that the technology shift
    away from the desktop towards network
    hosted computing takes Microsoft unawares.

  25. I agree with those that refuse to recognize this as a MS v Google corporate battle; Both are assuredly giants in their respective spheres, but their spheres don’t converge here.
    Microsoft faces no danger from Google’s free “toys” because their primary customer base is not the individual home user, but the corporate network. The greatest share of their revenue comes from licensing fees and profits off of parallel agreements with HP, Dell, Sony and the like. Google doesn’t target these entities; they instead prefer to interest the individual user and fly-by-night, small-budget operations that need to save money by using open-source programming. The two companies are not in competition – they may be playing the same sport, but they’re playing on different fields.
    Furthermore, people tend to see this as a “capitalist corporate war,” where Google and Microsoft level their individual machinery at each other and blast away until one is an unquestioned titan and the other is a profitless shell. Those folks are going to be disappointed. Google’s entire philosophy (not strategy) is one of creation – honestly, who’s to say that they’re not pulling these rabbits out of their hat just for shits and giggles? This is a company that actively promotes the creation of a digital, universally accessible, polyglot library on the scale of a contemporary Alexandria – why? Because “they can,” and because it would be “cool.” Doesn’t sound like the jangling of silver to me.
    And finally, I think the underlying, actual war is being largely ignored. Google is embarking on these random, creative, projects and successfully attracting more intellect into its ranks than is Microsoft; and I think that the two are highly interrelated. The true fight here may not be for money, but for minds.

  26. The Geek part of us diminishes our natural critical sense about Google’s numerous innovations, but the fact is that Google has not shown business performance in projects not directly related to its core search engine competency.

  27. Surly Teabag says:

    >Google is a company that has a single revenue source, while MS is much more diverse.
    I thought Microsoft had basically two revenue sources (operating systems and Microsoft Office) with everything else negligible or losing money.
    Grahame, great analysis! I’m switching over to your blog.

  28. Paindeer says:

    I think google made a mistake.
    I think it was supposed to be