Feeds

Google opens Docs and Sheets to tinkerers with new add-on APIs

Users can add new features from an online store

5 things you didn’t know about cloud backup

In a bid to make its online productivity software more competitive with Microsoft Office, Google has announced that Google Docs and Sheets users can now install add-ons that bring new capabilities to their documents and spreadsheets.

The online ad-giant launched the experimental new feature alongside a handful of preview add-ons for Docs and Sheets that can be downloaded from an online store.

Among the initial offerings are add-ons that help users create tables of contents, embed Twitter tweets into their documents, run mail merges, connect with Google Maps and Google Analytics, and add new fonts to documents, to give just a few examples.

What Google is really hoping for, however, is that developers will latch onto the new add-on APIs and produce a whole slew of components that will help drum up interest in Google's web-based productivity suite.

Add-ons for Google Docs & Sheets

Google would like developers to build new features as add-ons to Docs and Sheets

The add-ons themselves are conceptually similar to the new, web-based Apps for Office that Microsoft launched with Office 2013. They can add new menu items to Docs and Sheets, present web content in a sidebar, programmatically edit documents, and connect to other Google services.

As with Apps for Office, developers build add-ons for Google Docs and Sheets using their existing HTML and JavaScript skills – which makes sense, given that we're talking about entirely web-based software.

In a departure from Microsoft's method, however, add-ons for Docs and Sheets aren't built using strictly web-standard technologies. Instead, they're written in Google Apps Script, a derivative of JavaScript that runs on the Chocolate Factory's servers, rather than in the user's browser.

That makes them powerful, but it also allows Google to impose restrictions on them, especially during this early developer preview period. For one thing, they can't modify existing features of Google Apps. For another, they're mainly designed to respond to direct user input and can't run autonomously or detect what users are doing when they're not interacting directly with the add-on.

Another thing Google doesn't provide – at least for now – is a way for developers to charge customers for their add-ons, although they're free to roll their own payment systems if they think it's worth the trouble.

As is typical of so many modern developer programs, the only way for authors to make their add-ons available to Docs and Sheets users is to publish them in Google's store. That means all add-ons are subject to Google's approval, and the Chocolate Factory has published a set of guidelines to ensure the add-ons that developers submit are up to snuff.

Google Docs users can start installing and using add-ons immediately. For Google Sheets users, however, it's a little trickier – they must first switch to the new, experimental version of Sheets, which removes some features and could have some stability problems.

Google says to expect lots more add-ons in the Docs and Sheets stores shortly after this initial launch period, and add-ons for Google Forms are coming soon. ®

Boost IT visibility and business value

More from The Register

next story
The Return of BSOD: Does ANYONE trust Microsoft patches?
Sysadmins, you're either fighting fires or seen as incompetents now
Linux turns 23 and Linus Torvalds celebrates as only he can
No, not with swearing, but by controlling the release cycle
China hopes home-grown OS will oust Microsoft
Doesn't much like Apple or Google, either
Sin COS to tan Windows? Chinese operating system to debut in autumn – report
Development alliance working on desktop, mobe software
Apple promises to lift Curse of the Drained iPhone 5 Battery
Have you tried turning it off and...? Never mind, here's a replacement
Why has the web gone to hell? Market chaos and HUMAN NATURE
Tim Berners-Lee isn't happy, but we should be
Eat up Martha! Microsoft slings handwriting recog into OneNote on Android
Freehand input on non-Windows kit for the first time
Linux kernel devs made to finger their dongles before contributing code
Two-factor auth enabled for Kernel.org repositories
prev story

Whitepapers

Implementing global e-invoicing with guaranteed legal certainty
Explaining the role local tax compliance plays in successful supply chain management and e-business and how leading global brands are addressing this.
Endpoint data privacy in the cloud is easier than you think
Innovations in encryption and storage resolve issues of data privacy and key requirements for companies to look for in a solution.
Scale data protection with your virtual environment
To scale at the rate of virtualization growth, data protection solutions need to adopt new capabilities and simplify current features.
Boost IT visibility and business value
How building a great service catalog relieves pressure points and demonstrates the value of IT service management.
High Performance for All
While HPC is not new, it has traditionally been seen as a specialist area – is it now geared up to meet more mainstream requirements?