Online spreadsheets in the real world.

Google Spreadsheets main view

Google officially launched its Spreadsheet product in its alpha labs, allowing a small user base to poke around and experience the new ideas and integration. I can see the immediate benefit from online spreadsheets integrated with a portal experience such as Google. I’ll give you two concrete usage examples: my soccer team and my mom.

First, realize that although Microsoft’s Office suite is probably the best selling piece of packaged software in the market, it’s not a staple of every household. Microsoft created a special basic version of Office 2007 to increase sales from home users. My mom doesn’t use Office and I don’t have full adoption across a team of 20+ players.

The announcement from Google has been way too overhyped as the latest strike in the blow-by-blow epic battle between Google and Microsoft. Office Live will have online spreadsheets too, and you can signup for an account there today and play around a bit with that experience if you’d like. Neither product is an Excel-killer and that’s not what these new announcements are about. Online mail applications and other portals into personal information exchanges need to increase the number of file attachments they can render and possibly produce if they want to provide a good user experience. Gmail users could now have a new option of rendering a spreadsheet from their mail message, make a quick edit, and on to the next task. Hopefully all big online mail services are looking at how they can better manage our daily personal information flow and help users view the most popular attachment types on each system.

My soccer team

I produce team schedules and contact lists to share among about 20 people. Things change frequently throughout the season. A game is rained out, a player moves or gets a new phone number, or the game location may change. I would create an HTML table, upload it to my private hosting account with a custom domain for our team, and anyone with a web browser can view our latest information. I am the only one who can edit and upload, and in the case of a team contact list, I’ll put it behind a username and password prompt to keep things private.

Google Spreadsheets save view

Not exactly a good solution for the average user. With online spreadsheets and user-level rights management anyone can edit, auto save, and view the latest data in a variety of formats. Most people already have an account with a major portal, and if they do not it’s not too much of a hassle for them to sign up and use the account for multiple services.

My mom

Getting my mom to download a free Excel viewer is tough enough. She interacts with most new files as they arrive inside her Yahoo! Mail account (fairly typical I believe). She can now take action directly within the mail message, make a few changes, and have the confidence she did everything right.

A major portal might also integrate new change alerts for spreadsheets and other collaborative data sources into a personalized home page so my mom can keep track of what’s going on without needing an e-mail message regarding updates.