Move over Excel, here comes Google Spreadsheets

Google is releasing a free online spreadsheet app

Google Inc. has released a free online spreadsheet program that signals the company's increased incursion into the office software market dominated by Microsoft Corp.

Google Spreadsheets will allow users to import and export spreadsheets in the .xls format used by Microsoft Excel and the more generic .csv (comma separated values) format, the company said late today. Through a Web browser, users in remote locations will be able to view and simultaneously edit data. The software is platform-neutral, meaning it can be accessed using a number of browsers, including the open-source Firefox, Microsoft's Internet Explorer or Apple Computer Inc.'s Safari.

Google is now accepting sign-ups from a limited number of beta testers, a Google spokeswoman confirmed.

"This further proves the legitimate usefulness of software-as-a-service applications," said Tom Snyder, president of iNetOffice Inc. The Kirkland, Wash.-based start-up makes a free Web-based word processor called iNetWord.

Charlene Li, an analyst at Forrester Research Inc., said next-generation Web applications such as Google Spreadsheets and Writely, an online word processor acquired by Google in March, provide much of the functionality of Microsoft Office but are not yet credible replacements.

"Google Spreadsheets is not an effort to replace Excel. And if you tried to print out stuff you wrote in Writely, it would come out all ugly," she said. "Look at Web-based e-mail. We've had it for 10 years, but Outlook still reigns supreme.

"Eventually these products will get there, but not today."

Google is not the first company to release a Web 2.0 counterpart to Excel. A start-up called iRows also offers a free online spreadsheet program.

San Diego-based Ajax13, a start-up founded by Internet entrepreneur Michael Robertson, also has a beta of a free Web spreadsheet editor called AjaxXLS.

Ajax13 is the closest so far to having a full lineup of productivity applications that can challenge Microsoft Office. Besides AjaxXLS, the company also offers an online word processor called AjaxWrite, a drawing program called AjaxSketch and a hosted video editor called Eyespot. The company plans to release a PowerPoint-like presentation program by the middle of the year, according to Robertson, who founded and is also chairman of desktop Linux provider Linspire Inc.

Robertson said that Ajax13's applications are gaining fans -- more than 10,000 unique users a day -- because Microsoft is stuck: It's reluctant to cannibalize existing Microsoft Office revenues by cutting prices or by beefing up its Office Live family of Web-based applications, which despite their name, don't yet provide any of the features of Microsoft Office.

"The beauty is that we are attacking Microsoft right at their heart," Robertson said.

Unlike Ajax13, which is marketing its wares directly at end users, Snyder hopes to sidestep competition from Microsoft and Google by signing partnerships with other hosted software providers who need word-processing capabilities within their applications.

Copyright © 2006 IDG Communications, Inc.

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