Over the next few weeks, Google will be rolling out a new feature that allows Google Docs users to access their documents even without an Internet connection. For now the change only applies to the word processor, but similar capabilities are expected to become available for spreadsheet and presentation documents once the initial trials are complete.
This move wasn't unexpected. The updated Google Docs take advantage of the company's Google Gears library, a programming tool that allows Web application developers to synchronize online data with files on the user's local hard drive. It also intensifies the burgeoning competition between Google and Microsoft, which offers Web-based collaboration features similar to Google Docs in the form of Microsoft Office Live Workspace. Some pundits feel that online services like Google's are the Number One threat to Microsoft's dominance of the productivity software market.
Myself, I remain skeptical. Current fans of Google Docs will surely appreciate this new feature, but I still have a hard time seeing how a Web-based application could ever replace traditional word processing software for serious business computing. I have a hard enough time getting all the capabilities I want out of alternative office suites, such as OpenOffice.org.
And then there are the security and liability concerns. Having access to your documents from any computer anywhere is a powerful productivity enhancement, but quite frankly I work with a lot of documents that should never leave the walls of my office -- and I'm just small potatoes. Google, Microsoft, and other online application providers will have to demonstrate a serious commitment to document security before they can attract enterprise customers to these services, especially given the current regulatory climate.
How comfortable are you with shifting your business computing off the desktop and into the network? Do you see browser-based applications becoming viable alternatives to the apps of old? Or are they just another flash in the pan we call "Web 2.0"? Sound off in the PC World Community Comments.