Google Rewrites Docs, Makes Them Quicker & Richer

Google (s GOOG) today is hosting a cloud computing conference for CIOs — dubbed Atmosphere — at its Mountain View, Calif. headquarters, where we’ll be reporting from throughout the day. First up on the agenda is the unveiling of a rewritten Google Docs, tweaked to present information in real time as well as to enable better syncing across browsers. The goal here is to persuade CIOs that instead of upgrading to Microsoft Office 2010 (s MSFT) they should switch to Google Docs.

Though this isn’t a big new product, the Docs rewrite should be a significant improvement. Part of what was holding Docs back from going feature-for-feature with Office was the fact that different browsers displayed the layouts of Docs differently. “We hit a bit of a wall in capabilities of browsers and HTML,” said Anil Sabharwal, enterprise product manager for Google Docs, in a pre-briefing. “For true document layout flexibility we built a document object model layout that runs through our own JavaScript layout engine. Then we convert it into appropriate HTML for each browser.”

The result is “every person sees exactly what the other person sees,” said Sabharwal. So now Docs has actual character-by-character, real-time editing by multiple users; in-document presence and IM; and advanced formatting such as floating images, rulers and data stops.

Sabharwal said the Docs real-time collaboration technology is not Google Wave, nor does it include any of Google’s recent productivity acquisitions, such as AppJet.

The new features for document and spreadsheet editors are available as an opt-in preview today for both consumers and enterprise users, with a revamped drawing editor available to all users today. Users will be able to edit spreadsheets through mobile browsers on Android, BlackBerry (s RIMM) and iPhone (s AAPL), but they can only view docs and presentations on their phones. The launch disables offline accessibility, a feature Sabharwal said that very few users partake in, though his team is working to bring it back using HTML 5.

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