In a push toward heightened collaboration and cloud-based everything, Google today announced upcoming features and co-editing capabilities for Google Docs similar to those in Google Wave.  

A New Infrastructure

"You shouldn’t have to give up any routine features when you switch to Web-based applications," began Anil Sabharwal on the official Google Docs blog announcement.

We agree, and thanks to new browser technology Google is closer to making it so you don't have to. These most recent updates make Google Docs more like traditional word processing software--such as Microsoft Word--with speed and longstanding requests for better formatting:

  • New Document and Spreadsheet features: Docs now supports little things, like a margin ruler, better numbering and bullets, and more flexible image placement. Meanwhile, Spreadsheets now come with a formula editing bar, cell auto-complete, and drag-and-drop columns.
  • Higher fidelity document import: Google claims imported documents now keep more of their original structure, meaning less inconvenient tinkering.
  • Speed: With faster architecture, Google says there's much less lag when working with large spreadsheets.

Add Some Collaboration

And while these little improvements surely mean a ton to organizations utilizing Docs for work, it's the new collaboration features that are the real attention grabbers. New co-editing works exactly like it does in Google Wave, meaning up to 50 editors can work on the same document simultaneously. Each editor is assigned a color so everyone collaborating on the document can see who makes which changes, and an integrated chat service provides a space for real-time feedback and conversation:

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These multi-user editing features have also been added to drawings, so users can plant the process of creating of flow charts, schematics and other diagrams in a real-time collaborative environment as well.

Microsoft, How Ya Been?

I know where this is going, you know where this is going, we all know where this is going. A significant number of people still argue that traditional desktop-based software is what belongs in the enterprise. After all, it's tried-and-true, and there's a lot less risk involved. 

But there's no denying the benefits of working in the cloud.

Even Google's long-time rival Microsoft is kicking out a number of Web-based tools with the upcoming Office 2010 release, including online versions of Word, Excel and PowerPoint. If the features stick--and we predict they will--Microsoft will certainly gain from offering an all-encompassing package of tools, and therefore an easier transition for the wary. 

Moreover, Google's improvements come with a price. As of May 3rd, the Web giant is dropping its offline capabilities, with the exception of Gmail and Google Calendar. 

Need to know more? Google's holding a webinar on the 20th of this month at 12PM EST, and you can register here