Flexing its big-boy muscles for the second time this week, Google has used the Office 2.0 conference here to launch a free Web-based
word processing and spreadsheet package that it will promote in direct competition to Microsoft Office.

With the new “Ultimate” version of Office 2007, due in January 2007 the search giant’s timing could not have been better.

In response to what Google characterises as collaborative and document-management challenges, its so-called Google Docs & Spreadsheets promises to let users manage and share documents and spreadsheets online, for zilch.

The software integrates the Writely word processor (already launched in beta form) and Google Spreadsheets (announced in June) into a single product.

E-mail-and-share approach

With a Google account (natch), a compatible Web browser, and an Internet connection, Google says users can create documents and spreadsheets, manage
and access them in a single, secure location.

Apps and documents created are stored on Google’s servers and accessed from any computer. Users can save a copy of files onto a PC hard disk in forms
that are compatible with Office, including .doc, ,xml, .pdf and .htm.

Unlike Office, all files can be shared with others easily by simply entering their e-mail addresses, Google says.