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Google has combined its online word processing and spreadsheet applications through a common interface, single sign-in and data repository.

Google Docs & Spreadsheets, launched today in beta mode, has been devised to make Google's personal productivity software simpler to use. The suite also brings some much-needed order to the burgeoning Google catalogue.

Google Docs & Spreadsheets unifies Google's Writely online word suite, purchased in March, and Google Spreadsheets, released by Google Labs in June.

The applications share a common, tabbed-based interface - meaning an end to the Writely look and feel. Users have the ability to make edits in realtime with others, while also specifying who is allowed to view documents. There's a joint list for all users' documents and spreadsheets and one help center. As before, users can save and export as Microsoft- and non-Microsoft file formats.

The launch appears to contribute to something called a "features, not products" initiative. The goal is to simplify Google's collection of services, and will apparently see Google's calendar added to spreadsheet and word processing.

So far, at least, Google Calendar is offered through Google Apps for your Domain, launched in August and also featuring Gmail, Google Talk and Google Calendar, Google Page Creator, web site admin and 2Gb of storage. For now, Google Apps for your Domain and Google Docs & Spreadsheets are separate.

World+dog has speculated over Google's desktop productivity app plans: is it lining up a challenge to Microsoft's $12bn Office business. Microsoft's reaction to Google has been - big surprise - scathing: Tom Rizzo, the director for Office SharePoint Server, reportedly slammed Google Apps for your Domain as "Frankenstein software" because the elements are less well integrated than Microsoft's productivity applications, server and portal software.

Astute observers, though, will have recognized battling Microsoft in its sweet spot holds little appeal for Google - why go where Corel and Novell failed?

Instead, the goal is to compete with Microsoft as the company leaves its comfort zone, on the desktop, and tries to find its feet in the online jungle, where Google exists. Google's target is OfficeLive, a rather poor and confused set of offerings from Microsoft, covering email and website hosting, that seems to target small businesses.

Dave Girouard, head of Google's enterprise unit, told Reuters in August as Google launched Apps for your Domain: "The Google Apps platform is not designed to replace Microsoft's core software... we are not really out there to eliminate any applications. We are looking to introduce new ways to solve problems people have been having for years." ®

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