Google Polishes Google Apps

Google's corporate campus on April 12 hosted over 400 CIOs and other IT pros from around the world for the inaugural Atmosphere cloud computing conference. The search giant used the occasion to preview the faster, more fully-featured, HTML5-powered Google Docs that’s coming soon.

If the official blog is to be believed, the changes coming to Google Docs are the result of Google realizing that certain features just weren’t possible on their existing code infrastructure. By tearing out that infrastructure and rebuilding it, Google Docs can leverage new technology to increase performance and build out new features faster than ever.

For Google’s word processor, the new features are largely built around collaboration: the new Google Docs engine enables real-time character-by-character edits and the spreadsheet editor’s sidebar chat function. It’s also getting improved document formatting, including real margins and tab stops better image layout, and better import/export fidelity.

Spreadsheets are getting a speed boost in addition to new features like cell editing, auto-complete, drag-and-drop columns, and simpler navigation between sheets.

Google has also released a standalone drawing editor, such that users can collaborate on charts, diagrams, or any other graphic and view the created files in the document list. It’s also possible to drop the created drawings directly into a Google document using their web clipboard tool.

The bad news that comes with this widespread Google Docs makeover is that the new editors don’t support Gears for offline access, though Google does say they hope to bring it back in the vague future.

For right now, the drawing tool should be available to all Google Docs users, with preview versions of the new editors coming out in the next few days.

Google usually rolls out new features and technologies in small chunks. A major upgrade like this merits a lot of attention - and I’m sure their rivals in Redmond are keeping very, very close tabs on the new Google Docs -- especially as Microsoft Office 2010 and Office Web near launch. Stay tuned.

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