Google Mounts a New Microsoft Challenge

February 1, 2008

It’s no secret that search behemoth Google Inc. has been trying to muscle in on Microsoft Corp.’s Office territory with a suite of online applications called Google Apps, which includes software to manage e-mail, chat, calendar, word processing, spreadsheet, and slideshow functions.

Google Docs is the part of Google Apps that allows you to create, edit, share, and manage — without charge — documents through your Web browser. One of the big drawbacks of using Google Apps, however, has been that you can use it only when you’re online. That is about to change in a big way.

Google Docs work because of something called Google Gears, software that allows you to use Web-based products offline on your computer.

Google Gears is an ambitious initiative that promises to supercharge the ability of online applications to work just like the ones installed on your computer. It essentially enables Web applications to provide offline functionality. It will store online application resources and data on your computer — the latter in a fully searchable relational database — and will help online applications you use run faster as well.

Gears is the last piece of the online application puzzle that will finally bring online applications into the mainstream as viable software alternatives to the ones you install on your computer, say software industry experts. Google isn’t just creating Gears for Google Docs. It’s building Gears so any vendor offering online applications can provide offline functionality.

Do online word processor, spreadsheet, and slideshow applications have the same bells and whistles as Word, Excel, and PowerPoint? Not even close. There’s much more limited ability to format documents, for example.

But for many real estate professionals and businesses, they have enough features to get the job done, and not only are they free but they also have the advantage of allowing collaboration with multiple parties through the Web. And, you never have to worry about backing your documents up, because everything is stored on Google’s servers.

Google Gears is still in beta testing, with rumors flying that it will be released by the second quarter of this year. When it is, stand back and watch the world of online applications become a more viable, and much less costly, alternative to traditional software.

Michael Russer, a.k.a. Mr. Internet®, is CEO of Russer Communications. He is a leading speaker and author in the real estate industry and has been writing about Internet marketing and virtual outsourcing since the dawn of the commercial Internet.