[UPDATE] Blogger Philipp Lenssen published a book called Google Apps Hacks that goes in to much more detail about Google Apps and how to create presentations.[/UPDATE]
I had the privilege to attend a Google Apps presentation in Ann Arbor last night. The event was hosted by Google in coordination with The Ann Arbor Chamber of Commerce at the Boardwalk Creative Center. The presentation was basically an intro to the suite of productivity services as well as a pitch to larger organizations to take advantage of the Premier Edition. Having used Apps for about 6 months now, I was unsure of how much new information I was going to learn from the presentation. Afterwards I was glad I went. Okay, the free food and networking also helped me make the most of my time. Sorry for the poor image quality. The dim lighting is not ideal for my Treo’s camera.
The main presenter was Scott Johnston, the former VP of Product Development at JotSpot and new Googler (Noogler). As any fan of Google (Foogler?) already knows, JotSpot was recently acquired by Google and is currently being integrated into the Google Apps family of products. He walked the group through the rationale for the acquisition, which fits in nicely with Google’s mission to “Organize the world’s information and make it universally accessible and useful”. It makes perfect sense, given Google’s focus on the user, their status as the world’s largest supercomputer, and their rapid innovation and product development cycles. All of these combine to bridge the “Information Black Hole” as he described it, which causes information retrieval to be an expensive, complex and unreliable problem.
I won’t get in to too much detail on the existing Google Apps suite since information abounds and it is free for anybody to try on their own. The following list of interesting information came from Scott’s teasers of the services to be offered when JotSpot is fully integrated, as well as the audience Q&A session.
- Google Sites: Scheduled to be launched sometime next year (2008), Google Sites will expand upon the Google Page Creator already offered within Apps. Based on JotSpot collaboration tools, Sites will allow business to set up intranets, project management tracking, customer extranets, and any number of custom sites based on multi-user collaboration. [UPDATE] I don’t recall wikis being mentioned specifically but I assume they are part of the plan.
- Will users be able to edit docs, spreadsheets and presentation offline? Scott’s answer was yes, and that the Google Gears plugin would handle the offline work. In addition, Google Gears support is in the works for Gmail and Google Calendar.
- What happens when somebody edits a document offline at the same time another user is editing the online version? The same algorithm that reconciles simultaneous editing will apply here when the offline version is merged back into the online version. Changes will be versioned the same way, so basically in chronological order.
- Will Google docs have OCR capabilities for importing .pdfs or other graphical files? Not yet, but perhaps someday. Scott couldn’t comment on the “roadmap” for future enhancements. However, the collaborative Google Sites (based on JotSpot) will allow for upload and storage of any file type.
- Will GrandCentral be integrated into Google Apps? If so, when? Again, Scott didn’t comment on the timing but said they are working on it and it is a “huge priority” for them.
- Will Google Spreadsheets ever have advanced features like pivot tables, macros or offline database integrations? (This was actually my question) Scott said they are constantly trying to find the balance between speed and utility. It will never be a heavy duty analytics program because that would be too heavy and bulky for the average user.
- Will Google Apps support video conferencing in addition to Google Talk and Chat? Scott’s answer, “Not yet”. I got the impression from his body language that it’ll come someday, but nothing more was said.
Following Scott’s presentation and Q&A, there were breakout sessions to learn how to integrate and migrate to Google Apps, how to use Docs, Spreadsheets and Presentations to collaborate in realtime, and how to administer the program for users. I only attended the session on using the software, and was surprised to learn many tricks I didn’t even know about. Most of them replicated what you can already do in Excel, Word and PowerPoint, but many were unique to Google Apps such as being able to dynamically query Google in a spreadsheet cell for info from Google Finance or web search.
All in all, it was a very helpful presentation for the uninitiated as well as the long-time Apps users like myself. I would encourage you to try it out. It’s free, easy to set up and will only improve over time. Don’t cut the cord to MS Office just yet, but this may make most of your daily tasks much easier.
[UPDATE] I’ve seen a lot of questions and speculation regarding this post, and I’ll do my best to clear up as much as I can. If you have any other questions or were at the event, please leave a comment and help fill in the gaps. I’ll answer as best I can, but many of the details people are seeking (timing, product names, etc) were not provided in the presentation. Thanks!
- The event was hosted by Google in partnership with the Ann Arbor Chamber of Commerce as an intro to the services for local businesses and organizations. I don’t believe it was intended to be the “official” announcement of the Apps plans for 2008. The event was well attended and at least half the audience I polled were already Apps users and familiar with the services. This led to some very specific questions during the Q&A, during which most of the juicy information was related.
- I used the term “Google Sites” for the JotSpot integration. That was the name Scott used in the presentation, but there’s no way to know if that will be the actual name of the service when it is released. I don’t presume to know what the final plans are.
- There was no clear indication how the “Google Sites” product would interact with the current Google Pages. I don’t think it will replace Google Pages, but they will most likely be linked in some way.
- The issue of security has been raised in several venues. Scott used the analogy of a bank during the presentation. Most people trust banks enough to deposit their money instead of hoarding it under the mattress. We know it will be there; secure and available when we need it. Google wants to achieve this level of trust with its users and they believe they have the most secure systems in the world (he actually used that phrase). I’m sure this applies not just to Apps, but to its personalization and web history programs as well.