Software offered through Google Labs is considered to be "alpha" software, which a Google spokesperson characterized as "very experimental."
The program will be called Google Spreadsheets. In its initial form, it can read and write Microsoft Excel files, but it lacks that program's depth of features. It will however make use of some of Google's other software, such as Google Talk, for online collaboration.
Google Spreadsheets is "[d]esigned for users who create basic spreadsheets that need to be shared or updated by several contributors," Google said in a statement.
Microsoft Office faces a growing number of competitors. In March, Google bought online word processor Writely.
In January, JotSpot launched its own online collaborative spreadsheet that can import and export Microsoft Excel files, which Salesforce.com began offering through its third-party online software marketplace AppExchange program last month.
Microsoft professes to be unfazed by this latest indignity from Google. Alan Yates, general manager of Microsoft’s information worker business strategy, says he doesn't see a Google spreadsheet as a threat to Microsoft Office. "Office is the clear leader in what has always been a really competitive space," he says. "What we see is customers are really a lot more demanding, rather than less, about what they expect from their spreadsheet programs, word processing programs."
Yates says Microsoft hasn't announced any plans to offer Excel online. "We've seen a number of vendors experiment with this for several years now," he says, pointing to programs offered by SimDesk, ThinkFree, and OpenOffice, among others. "There's really nothing new here, except for the fact that it's Google."
It might also be said that Microsoft hasn't had any capable, well-funded competition until Google.
Those wishing to take part in the testing of Google Spreadsheets will need to set their alarm clocks and wake up early. Admittance to the small group of initial testers will be on a first-come, first-served basis.