Google promises major upgrade to Docs suite

Google will deliver significant improvements to its Docs hosted suite of office productivity applications, over the next 12 months.

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Google will deliver significant improvements to its Docs hosted suite of office productivity applications, over the next 12 months.

That was the message of Dave Girouard, president of Google's Enterprise unit, speaking at the Bank of America and Merrill Lynch 2009 US Technology Conference yesterday.

After acknowledging that Google has "a lot of work to do" to improve Docs, and that the suite isn't yet a "full on" replacement for Microsoft Office, nor the open-source OpenOffice, Girouard said big improvements are coming.

"In a year, those products will be night and day from what they are today," he said, referring to the word-processing, spreadsheet and presentation software in Docs.

While Google has always acknowledged that Docs doesn't match all of the Microsoft Office features, it also has pointed out that, as Web-hosted software, it offers collaboration capabilities its PC-based competitor can't.

Girouard wasn't specific about what Docs features need to improve, but his comments sounded like a general acknowledgement that, even with its collaboration advantages, Docs has to improve its user experience to get people to view it as a more credible alternative to other office suites.

Girouard, whose presentation was webcast, said that Gmail and Calendar are much more mature products and thus drive the decisions of most businesses to adopt the Apps collaboration and communication suite, which also includes Docs.

Google will also try to attract enterprise developers to its App Engine hosted application development environment, which recently gained Java support and became generally available, after a period of limited release.

Google will also continue enhancing the Gmail and Calendar components with improvements aimed at CIOs and IT managers, including the upcoming Apps Connector for BlackBerry Enterprise Server, he said.

Ironically, the economic downturn and the ensuing reductions in IT budgets have caused a spike in interest in the Premier version of Apps, which can cost between five to 20 times less than Microsoft's Office and Exchange, he said.

Apps Premier costs US$50 per user, per year and, as the most sophisticated version of the suite, is geared toward businesses with more than 50 end-users, which is the maximum for the Standard version, which carries ads in Gmail and is free. There is also a free Education edition designed for schools and universities. Most Apps users are small businesses.

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