Google Spreadsheets Under Fire

— June 14, 2006

This week's launch of Google Spreadsheets, which is currently available to a limited set of users for testing, has stirred up a lot of controversy around the Internet.

There are privacy concerns about users storing financial data on Google's servers. Just how secure are these servers, and how long will Google guarantee to maintain users' data?

And there is talk of Google Spreadsheets being a direct competitor to Microsoft Excel. Those on Google's side seem to be saying that the new app is yet another "Microsoft Office killer," while many others are calling Spreadsheets a very basic piece of software that pales in comparison to Excel.

One of the central features of Google Spreadsheets allows users to work together on the Web. Multiple users can view and alter the same documents at the same time, with updating taking place in real time.

But Stacey Quandt, Aberdeen Group's research director of security solutions and services, is not overly impressed. "For people who care about collaboration on the Web, Google Spreadsheets may make sense, but it's not a replacement for Excel," she said.

"It is a shot fired across the bow of Microsoft," she offered, "but certainly not a direct hit."

Excel Challenge

Kyle McNabb, a senior analyst at Forrester, said Google Spreadsheets isn't appropriate for businesses, even small ones. "Privacy concerns are clearly a main driver behind why Google's apps are not quite ready for broad enterprise use," he said. "Rather, it's part of their continued focus on consumers, finding new ways to generate advertising revenue, while learning more of what enterprises need."

McNabb said that Google Spreadsheets, together with Google Mail, Google Groups, Google Calendar, and Google's recently acquired software Writely.com, will be used by some businesses. "But I believe consumers are the primary market Google has in mind right now," he said.

"We are all consumers, and the more familiar and comfortable we become with applications delivered for consumers, the more apt we are in demanding our enterprise I.T. environments to adopt them for internal use," he said. "Another company, one located in Redmond , Washington , figured out this model and used it to make Windows and Office enterprise I.T. standards."

Mike Silver, a Gartner analyst, offered a similar take, saying that the initial release of Google Spreadsheets is not likely to be of much interest to businesses. "Aside from privacy concerns, it's not likely to have all the features business users need yet," he said. "It may, however, be good enough for what many consumers need."

Silver said that Google Spreadsheets acting as a competitor to Excel is a longer-term issue. "The management paradigm is compelling and improved collaboration may be of interest as well," he said. "But there's likely a long evolution ahead until this is a real enterprise choice."

Basic Spreadsheets

Martin Reynolds, a Garter analyst, has some good things to say about Google Spreadsheets. "Basic spreadsheets are very useful," he said, suggesting shopping lists, gift registries, travel expenses, movies, and books as examples of things that can be effectively tracked with a basic spreadsheet.

"And having them online and shareable makes these even more valuable," he said. "So while Google Spreadsheets isn't going to be the next big thing in business analysis, we'll find a lot of users enjoying the shared data capabilities that they can access from any Internet connection."

Forrester analyst Charlene Li said that there will always be concerns about privacy whenever people store something online. "It comes down to one thing: Do you trust Google -- or Yahoo, Microsoft, or AOL, for that matter -- to keep your information safe and secure?" Li said.

"I frankly believe my data is more secure at these companies than the information I carry around on my laptop, which is apt to be lost easily," Li said. "The spreadsheet offered by Google is very basic -- but, then again, most people use spreadsheets for very simple purposes, like keeping a list of names and phone numbers for a project."

For Li, Google Spreadsheets is not a competitor to Excel. "I don't think Google has positioned it really as a competitor to Excel," she said. "It doesn't even come close to offering the features of a desktop application like Excel or Lotus Notes."

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