An interesting trend is emerging in how basic computer software is delivered. Google has introduced new programs--Google Apps--for word processing and spreadsheets. These new programs are designed to work with several other online Google applications; email, calendars, web documents and photo management. All are types of software we've traditionally installed on our personal computers. Google is offering them as an online service. Your computer doesn't host anything, it connects you to a Google-hosted space of your own.
This piece was written in Google Docs, an online word processing program. It has all the basic formatting, editing and proofing tools, yet it's a lot less sophisticated than the ubiquitous Microsoft Word. And while I've been weaned, trained and reliant on Word for almost two decades, this is an interesting challenge to my habitual self.
Google Apps is 'software as a service.' You don't buy the software as you would with Microsoft Office, you connect to Google's applications online. You save your documents on Google servers. You'll never have to upgrade the software, Google takes care of all that. You just use the application. Log in and write. The same with spreadsheets. The interface is designed with an emphasis on simplicity.
Documents created with Google Apps are sharable. Simply invite others via an email link to join in. The document can be open by several users simultaneously so they can collaborate in its development. That alone is worth the cost of admission.
Ah, but it's free.
This is a shift from software delivery of yore. We used to install and host software on our personal computers. Microsoft was the most common application with their Office suite of products. Veteran users of these products--Word, Excel, PowerPoint and Outlook--have come to rely heavily on them.
Yet here comes Google with their free apps. Software as a service. They want to entice you to use their services. For Google, everything is about getting us to use their search function.
Here are some significant differences in using Google apps.
- The applications are only available online. You have to have an Internet connection to access them.
- You store your documents (and ideas) on Google servers.
- The applications are far less sophisticated than those in Microsoft Office.
For many of us, those trade-offs are too high a price to pay. We prefer to keep our documents on our computers and local servers. Yet Google is playing to a new generation for which instant messaging, mySpace and web-based applications are second nature. They're innate googlers.
The question for mature and sage users of Office: Would we change our personal computer paradigm?
- Would we buck the Microsoft empire to go with the emerging Google empire?
- Will we continue to pay a hefty annual sum to Microsoft so that all of our employees can use Microsoft Office?
- And, the question I hear most, would we store our precious and confidential documents on Google servers?
Ask your own questions. Anyone can google 'Google Apps' and start the process by signing up for a personalized Google account.
I'm thinking about what I want to say to new PSU students at orientation this spring. Many ask about computers and software to buy. I think the best advice is to get a good laptop and hold off the purchase Microsoft Office. Rather, sign up for a Google account. Unless they're writing super-sensitive, personal documents, storage of their work on Google servers isn't an issue. A student could keep all their materials online. Man, would they be dialed in. Drop in at any computer connected to internet and access all their documents.
If I was 18, that's what I'd be thinking.