Google plans to add a presentations application to its web applications suite, delivering on a promise made in April. The suite, until now known as Docs & Spreadsheets, has been renamed Google Docs.
Because Google Docs is part of the broader Google Apps suite of collaboration and communication applications, Google Apps users will also get the presentations application.
The delivery of the presentations application will no doubt once again turn up the heat on industry discussions that Google Docs and Google Apps rival Microsoft's Office suite of productivity applications and the Outlook/Exchange messaging platform.
There is a key architectural difference between the Google and Microsoft suites: Google's is hosted in the search company's datacentres while Microsoft's is packaged software designed to be installed on PCs.
The viability of Web hosted applications, with their software-as-a-service (SAAS) model, is no longer in question, although the consensus is that, while the future belongs to them, they will not completely displace traditional packaged applications.
The issue is that, while Google and others like Zoho and Zimbra push ahead expanding and improving their SAAS suites, Microsoft is perceived by many to be dragging its feet in coming up with SAAS versions of its Office products.
"Microsoft needs to take a careful look at its enterprise strategy for both messaging and the desktop," said Rebecca Wettemann, an analyst with Nucleus Research.
Having delivered the presentations application, Google Docs and the broader Google Apps, which includes email, instant messaging, calendar and a Web page creator, have filled the only big hole they had in their ability to compete with Microsoft Office and Outlook/Exchange, she said.
"Microsoft should be very concerned," Wettemann said.
The benefits of SaaS communication and collaboration suites have already caught the attention of thousands of organisations of all sizes worldwide.
Because the vendor - Google in this case - hosts the software, which end-users access via a Web browser, clients don't have to install the software or worry about upgrading it. Another benefit is that this type of SaaS application, designed to live on a hosted server is typically built to make it easy for users to share documents and collaborate on them.
There are downsides to the SaaS model as well. Security concerns exist about housing applications and data in a vendor servers. Availability and performance problems sometimes arise from server failures.
It is also generally agreed that Google Apps and similar suites from other vendors don't have as many features and functionality as long established communication and collaboration platforms like Microsoft's Office, Outlook and Exchange and IBM's Lotus Notes/Domino.
However, the SaaS suites generally cost significantly less. For example, Google Docs is free, while Google Apps has free versions and one designed for workplace use called Premier that costs US$50 per user per year and includes more sophisticated features, including broader administrative controls for IT staffers.
In the case of the Google Docs presentations application, Wettemann estimates that it has about 60 percent of the features in Microsoft Office's PowerPoint.
Google officials point out that Google Docs and Google Apps aren't intended to replace Microsoft Office and Exchange, but rather complement them or be an option to users and organisations who don't have them.
It's widely expected that Google Apps will soon gain a wiki component based on technology Google acquired almost a year ago when it bought JotSpot.
The presentations application, still in an early stage, will let users create presentations and store them in a central server, where they can be shared with colleagues, who can in turn edit them.
Users will also be able to share slide shows of a presentation with others and chat with them in real time. They will also be able to import presentations created with Microsoft PowerPoint. The ability to export presentations to PowerPoint will be added later.
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