Google Nets Web-Based Word Processor

By Clint Boulton | Posted March 14, 2006

Search, maps, images, shopping and now office software — Google's on the march and headed into the competitive territory dominated by Microsoft.

The search giant this week purchased Silicon Valley startup Upstartle, which makes Writely, a collaborative word processor that runs in a Web browser. The software lets several people edit documents online with whomever they choose and then download them as formatted documents to their desktop or publish them in a blog

You can also upload Word, OpenOffice, RTF, HTML or text documents and invite others to share them by e-mail — something traditional, client-based word processing formats like Office can't offer.

Upstartle co-founder Claudia Carpenter said in a blog post that the number one reason is to expand its customer base to millions once it is fully integrated with Google. She also noted that some people didn't feel comfortable "trusting a tiny startup with their documents — and we're no longer a tiny startup." Carpenter said Google will offer Writely for free as a basic service, but will also provide a subscription-based offering with bonus features. Google will also charge license fees to corporations and partners.

Since the Writely beta launched in August, thousands of people have registered through word of mouth and blog, said Jen Mazzon, in a blog post. "Everyone told us it was crazy to try and give people a way to access their documents from anywhere — not to mention to share documents instantly, or to collaborate online within their browsers," said Mazzon, who became Upstartle's vice-president of marketing last fall. "But that's exactly what we did."

To maintain the current quality level, Mazzon said Writely is not accepting new registrations until the Upstartle staff moves Writely to Google's software architecture.

Current Writely customers will retain use of the beta and will be able to add a limited number of collaborators. Anyone interested can join the Writely waiting list to be notified when the application beta is open again.

Some industry experts think Google could seriously undercut Microsoft in the word processing software market if it focuses enough time and resources on the challenge. Google partnered with OpenOffice supporter Sun Microsystems last year, fanning the flames of speculation for Google's direction versus Microsoft.

That fight could be uphill and steep: Microsoft is the heavyweight of productivity software, thanks to Office. There are also doubts as to whether the world is ready for Web-based word processing. The Writely purchase, however small in the short term, is an example of how Google is looking to diversify its revenue streams and grab a larger piece of the pie for Web-based technologies.

Adapted from Internetnews.com.

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