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Google Spreadsheets: Microsoft, be very afraid

The ability to create and edit Excel-compatible spreadsheets online, free of charge, makes this application a great alternative for home users on a budget

Crave has caught the lurgy so is working from home today. Unfortunately, we were on a budget when setting up our home PC, so we don't have Microsoft Excel at home -- a bit irritating when we're being sent spreadsheets by unsympathetic work colleagues.

Luckily, Google has flown to our rescue with Google Spreadsheets, a free Web-based program launched last week. The program lets you open Excel files and did an excellent job of keeping the formulae and formatting in spreadsheets we'd been sent. Google Spreadsheets doesn't support graphs (not yet, anyway), but didn't kick up a fuss at opening a spreadsheet with an embedded graph -- it simply stripped it out and displayed the rest of the data.

Google Spreadsheets isn't as feature-rich as Microsoft Excel, but frankly we don't know how to use most of the features in Excel anyway, so we didn't miss them. The interface is easy to understand if you're used to Excel and it didn't take us long to work out how to add simple formatting and formulae.

Our favourite feature about the application was the sharing facility, which let us share a spreadsheet and edit it at the same time as others -- changes that we made appeared within less than a second on a friend's spreadsheet. Impressive.

The main problem we foresee is if you don't have broadband at home, or if your broadband breaks -- it's hard enough not being able to check your email, but it would be pretty annoying if you couldn't access any of your documents either.

Earlier this year Google bought Writely, a free Web-based word processor. At the moment Writely has closed off new registrations, so it's not much use unless you nabbed yourself an account early. But once Google relaunches it, it could be a threat to Microsoft's tasty profit margins once home users catch on. Why pay upwards of £200 to get Office on your new computer if you can get the same functionality online for free?

Online pundits have been talking for ages about Google's ever-expanding set of free applications becoming a potential threat to Microsoft's lucrative desktop market. With the release of Google Spreadsheets (which you can find on Google's site), the search giant has moved a step closer towards becoming a potential Office killer. -IM