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Google Spreadsheets upgrade on the way

Gadgets added to online office tool

Google plans to roll out enhancements to its online spreadsheet program, including the ability to display data in new ways using lightweight 'gadgets' and to notify users via email when data is changed.

The enhancements will be extended later to the other Google Docs components - the word processor and presentation applications.

The gadget feature will let third-party developers and Google create new features for the spreadsheet application in a componentised way, said Jonathan Rochelle, senior product manager for Google Docs.

"If we have a new idea for visualising data, we can create that as a separate feature that can be pushed out to users of Google Docs' spreadsheet," he said.

For example, a gadget could be created that takes data from a spreadsheet and presents it visually on a map or in charts that can be displayed in websites that support inline frames, such as the iGoogle personalised home page, he said.

"We're finding today, spreadsheets being used more and more as a foundation to publishing information on websites," Rochelle said.

The gadgets will access spreadsheets via a visualisation API, designed to let developers quickly identify a range of cells whose data they want the gadget to use or render graphically, he said.

Meanwhile, the new notification feature will generate email messages to users who collaborate on a spreadsheet, alerting them of changes to the document, including who made modifications and what changed.

The notifications, which users can configure to receive once per day or every time a change is made, also include a link to the spreadsheet, where the modified cells will appear highlighted, Rochelle said. "It supports the collaboration and makes it stronger," he said.

Google didn't say when the enhancements would be made to the other Google Docs programs.

Google Docs is a free suite of web-hosted applications that is considered both a rival and a complement to Microsoft Office, the dominant office productivity suite. Unlike Microsoft Office, which is designed to be installed on PCs, Google Docs lives on Google servers and is accessed via a web browser. While Microsoft Office has more features, Google Docs has gained attention because it allows people to collaborate on documents and jointly edit them.

Microsoft has recently been making moves to make its software available via the web, including enhancements to Office Live Workspace, which is still in beta, or test, mode.

People can sign up for Google Docs only, or they can use it as part of a broader collaboration and communication suite called Google Apps, which includes other components such as Gmail, Google Sites and Talk.


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