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Google Rolling Out Richer Web Apps

Google has updated its codebase, adding features to its Google Docs online suite of applications that make them richer and more collaborative.

The updates were announced on Monday at Google's Atmosphere cloud computing event held at the company's headquarters in Mountain View, Calif. Google claimed in its official blog that it has tapped into "faster JavaScript processing" in newer or modern browsers with the codebase updates. One effect of the increased speed is that Google Docs can handle large spreadsheets with performances that "feel like desktop applications," according to Dave Girouard, president of Google Enterprise.

Google has been working on the rewrite to its codebase "over the last year," according to Anil Sabharwal, product manager for Google Apps, in an enterprise blog post. The improvements may help build the case for organizations considering moving to cloud-based productivity apps from traditional on-premises productivity solutions, such as Microsoft Office. Google's online applications have tended to lack the rich features found in Office.

To accommodate the changes, Google will have to temporarily remove offline support for Google Docs, starting on May 3, 2010, according to Sabharwal. Offline support will continue to work for Gmail and Google Calendar, Sabharwal added. Google plans to update Google Docs with an improved HTML 5-based version of offline support.

Many of the new Google Docs improvements make them more on par with the kind of functionality seen in Microsoft Office Web Apps. Google added a margin ruler for documents, along with improvements in image placement and bullets. Spreadsheets have the sort of formula editing bar seen in Microsoft Excel, along with feature improvements such as autocomplete and columns that can be dragged.

Document collaboration is improved with the new codebase update. Google Docs now supports "up to 50 simultaneous editors." Changes get refreshed and can be seen in near real time during a collaboration session, according to Google. The company also plans to add a collaboration capability for drawings and diagrams, which users will be able to access "over the next few days," according to the official Google blog.

It's unclear if the collaboration improvements are related to Google's acquisition of DocVerse, announced last month, although DocVerse's technology helped enable collaboration using Microsoft Office files.

Google plans to describe more about the improvements in a Webinar on April 20 at 9:00 a.m. Pacific Standard Time or 12:00 p.m. Eastern Standard Time. Those wanting to tune in can sign up via the enterprise blog linked above.

About the Author

Kurt Mackie is senior news producer for 1105 Media's Converge360 group.

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