Google on Wednesday unveiled Gadgets for Spreadsheets in Google Docs, allowing people to create graphical representations of data in spreadsheets and publish them on Web sites.
For consumers, this means they have a dozen or so new ways to look at data in their spreadsheets. Google has put up a gallery of specialty gadgets to choose from. They include gadgets to display data on a pie chart, map, time chart, funnel chart, Gantt chart, pivot table, and on a heat map if it's geographical data. You can even create interactive charts like those used by Google Finance and for motion charts.
These visuals can also be pushed out to appear on an iGoogle home page or any other site and they will be dynamically updated as changes are made to the spreadsheet.
Gadgets will soon be coming to other apps in Google Docs and eventually search, to help people find relevant content and links, says Jonathan Rochelle, senior product manager for Google Docs.
Google has also added new features that make using Spreadsheets easier. For one, there is a notification system that will e-mail you when somebody has made a change to a spreadsheet that is being collaborated on. You can set it to alert you once a day or after each new change is made. The changes are highlighted so you can easily detect what is new.
There is also a column-based auto-complete function that looks for cues from adjacent cells to try to guess what you are typing, an updated color palette and function editing capability that uses the arrow keys, as well as an auto-complete function for typing long formulas.
In addition, spreadsheet creators now have access to historical stock market data through a Google Finance function and new functions to automatically sort and filter data.
Google is doing something interesting with its Gadgets platform, making gadgets a data source for spreadsheets as well as a data distribution method for developers.
"If I'm collecting census data and putting it into a spreadsheet, I can also make that data available to statisticians," through the Visualization API, says Rochelle. "It doesn't have to be in a spreadsheet form" to distribute.
Spreadsheets is just the first data source that can be handled this way.
"We're making the spreadsheet almost a platform for simple development and delivery," he says.
With the enhancements, Google is ratcheting up the competition its free Web-hosted apps are giving Microsoft's desktop productivity suite, which companies pay for.