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1/20/2011
07:28 PM
Thomas Claburn
Thomas Claburn
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The Future of Google Docs

Docs has become a worthy competitor to Microsoft Office, but its future will rely less on feature parity and more on the value being added to Google's platform in the cloud.

The most significant barrier to adopting Google Docs as one's sole productivity suite for many is the inability to use Docs when there's no Internet connectivity. Rochelle knows this is a problem and promised that Google's apps will work offline soon.

Once that goal is finally reached -- and Rochelle insists that it will be -- it may become clear that Google Docs, and the larger set of services under the Google Apps umbrella, are valuable not only as applications but for the platform they're built on.

With the Google Apps Marketplace for businesses and the Chrome Web Store for consumers, Google is currently offering many of the features that have made Apple's iTunes App Store and Mac App Store popular. For users this includes easy software installation and hassle-free updates; for vendors this includes a strong distribution channel and easy payment processing.

But not only is Google offering developers a favorable financial deal -- selling an app in the App Marketplace only costs 20% of revenue, as opposed to the 30% figure charged by Amazon, Apple, and the Android Market -- it is also providing a platform with rich APIs and valuable enterprise integration capabilities.

Chuck Dietrich, CEO of Sliderocket, one of Google's launch partners for the Google Apps Marketplace and the Chrome Web Store, said in a phone interview that his company's motivation for integrating its presentation software with Google's APIs was to leverage Google's infrastructure and to bring the functionality of Google's platform to its customers.

He points to the ease of user provisioning as an example. By integrating with Google's sign-on process, a Google Apps administrator can provide employees with access to Sliderocket in only a few clicks.

Google's APIs also allow Sliderocket to enhance the capabilities of its software. A lot of people want tables and charts in their presentations, says Dietrich. By hooking into Google's APIs, Sliderocket can provide charts and spreadsheets that update themselves with data feeds, so the graphics always represent current data.

"We didn't have to build a spreadsheet engine," he said. "We just hooked into Google and now we have all that functionality."

Dietrich also sees value in having access to 30 million Google Apps users.

"The business value is not just the functionality," he said. "It's a huge distribution opportunity. We saw 53,000 installs in four weeks. Those are huge numbers for us."

Google talks a lot about how the cloud enables collaboration between people. Well, it also enables collaboration between applications, through APIs.

That's where Google Docs is headed, toward a connected ecosystem.

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