As usual, reporters are making this into a clash of the titans instead of evaluating it for what it is. This idea isn’t new, it was done many years ago and never really caught on. The basic technologies that are available to make something like this happen today aren’t much different than when Num Sum tried this in 1998, so it’ll be interesting to see what value Google can possibly add here aside from the heat and light of their halo effect.
I have a bias here (not as a Google competitor but as an Excel fan), but my sense is that any web-based spreadsheet is going to have a hard time competing with the next version of Excel. David Gainer’s Excel 2007 product blog has an awesome discussion of what’s coming up — after a few staggeringly mediocre releases (why did anyone pay actual money for Excel 2003?), the Excel product team is really thinking outside the box and adding some amazing new features.
So…if Google’s intention was to jab Microsoft, it’s not going to work. Google will probably get some users who don’t use Excel today, but serious spreadsheet users are not going to use any Web-based spreadsheet. Setting aside the issue of whether a Web-based spreadsheet can be responsive enough and contain the hundreds of features that spreadsheet power users demand, there’s the very important question of who gets to paw through your sensitive business data when it’s stored online.