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Google Spreadsheets gets software-inspired face lift

Google Spreadsheets gets some small, handy features and a big new look that brings it up to check with its software-free siblings.

Over the weekend, Google rolled out a brand-new look for its Spreadsheets tool by adding a simplified toolbar to the top of the page, much like the one Google Docs received back in late March. The change is twofold: one to better organize all the various bits and pieces that had turned the tool into something resembling an airplane cockpit, as well as ready it for additional features.

All this isn't just cosmetic ,though; Google says overall speed has been improved, too. One of the things that's kept me away from using it all these years is that Excel absolutely kills it on larger spreadsheets. In a quick test on some older, large spreadsheets I really did notice a big difference, although it still has to stream in all your cells, whereas Excel is ready to go as soon as you open it.

Google Spreadsheets users now have a similar menu to the one in Google Docs, which compacts many of the options into menus for the sake of organization. CNET Networks

Something small, but really important is the inclusion of a full screen mode. Hitting Ctrl+Shift+F lets you cycle through two additional views, one that gets rid of the menu bar, and another that gets rid of both the menu bar and toolbar. If you're working on a laptop with a small vertical resolution this gives you an additional seven rows(!).

Google has also more deeply integrated its Calendaring tool and handling of URLs within its forms tool. You can now plan a meeting with people you're collaborating on a spreadsheet with right from the share menu. This simply opens up a Google Calendar event with the participants, subject, and link to the spreadsheet automatically filled in for you. Likewise, any URL you drop in forms or the form confirmation messages will get converted into links automatically. Previously users would have to copy and paste it into their address bar.

All these changes may be small, but like the change to Docs back in March, it's a fascinating shift. Considering Google's Chrome browser lets you run tools like Docs and Spreadsheets as standalone Web applications, the closer it gets to feeling like software people are used to, the more willing they'll be to try it out. The big question is how far Google is willing to go with this new interface to make it better.