There have been a few blog posts out and about this past week regarding the new look of Google Docs and Spreadsheets (D&S), and the new look does improve an already powerful tool, but the functionality of D&S will continue to increase to the point where Google will at some point in the next year have a full blown office suite... watch out Bill Gates.
To add to the functionality of Google D&S, there is a new dictionary and thesaurus tool that is a big plus for teachers and students. D&S also has many of the same keyboard shortcuts that are available on the commercial word processing and spreadsheet applications. Here is a link to a cheat sheet for these tools. The Google D&S Help Center is also very helpful for those of you using an online application for the first time. You can now add folders and categorize your documents, just like in Windows or Mac OSX, but now you can share these documents with anyone regardless of their computing platform. (Windows, Mac OSX or Linux)
So, why is this important? For the basic reason that it again lowers the point of entry into the Web 2.0 age on two fronts, skill set and cost. Now, many basic level computer users have been stuck in the Word/Excel (Pre-Web 1.0) mode for years, not wanting to venture into other applications, especially online applications, fearing that the learning curve would prove to be too steep to climb. Google D&S solves that by making their interface very intuitive and allowing a huge amount of positive transfer of skills from Word/Excel. The cost issue is obvious, a student who could not afford Word/Excel now has an online option that is free. The other major benefit of an online application is that it is available from any Internet accessible computer. For students this means that they don't have to worry about having access to the same applications at school, home (sometimes multiple homes) and elsewhere.
Here is a video I have blogged before showing how Google D&S works from the lead of the team at Google working on the project.
Here are a few predictions:
1) Google D&S will include a PowerPoint type presentation tool by October 1, 2007!
2) Google will have a wiki tool (modified JotSpot) ready to go by the end of the 2007 calendar year.
3) Expect Google to begin to market these applications as a "Google Productivity Suite" by the beginning of 2008.