Google Docs, a Web-based platform for creating, sharing, storing, and publishing documents, has offered capabilities for word processing and creating spreadsheets, but has been missing a major piece of the Microsoft Office puzzle -- until now. On Monday, Google added business presentation software, the element that many analysts said was preventing the Web-based office suite from contending with Office on a larger scale.

Google's business presentation software attempts to answer Microsoft's PowerPoint with a Web-based twist. The application lets users create simple Web-based presentations that coworkers can update and view from their own computers.

"From student groups to sales teams, people are turning to the Web for help improving both personal and group productivity," Sam Schillace, director of engineering for Google Docs, said in a statement. "Putting documents in the cloud surrounded by easy-to-use features for collaboration and sharing can save people hours of inefficiency and frustration and even enable new ways of working together."

Natural Addition to Docs

The way Google sees it, presentations are a natural addition for Google Docs because they are usually created with the intention of being shared. Web-based, collaborative presentations eliminate the need for users to manage and compile group members' input in separate attachments, and make it possible for multiple users to view a set of slides while a moderator controls the presentation.

"Most people don't make presentations for themselves. So it wouldn't be like a document you would use as a record or a spreadsheet. Presentations are inherently documents intended to be shared," said Paul DeGroot, an analyst at Directions on Microsoft. "If Microsoft is correct that collaboration is a key driver, then solutions like Google Docs may be a better fit for many organizations."

A demo Google posted on YouTube illustrates the new application in action. The business presentation features are still in simple, early stages, the company admitted, but the Google Docs team is making them available now. Google said updates and improvements will continue to roll out over the coming months.

Real-Time Collaboration

But right out of the virtual box, Google's business presentation software offers many capabilities. Users can create and keep presentations in one place on the Web that is accessible anytime, from any Internet-connected computer.

In addition, users can manage, update, and share presentations with colleagues by sending an e-mail invitation to edit the presentations together online and in real-time, or contribute at different times to the same presentation.

Moreover, users can present and control slide shows for all viewers over the Web, with no special setup required, and chat with viewers in real-time via the integrated chat functionality. In addition to this, Google Docs lets users import existing presentations and control permissions on created presentations to make them available to the general public or to selected individuals.

Microsoft Office Killer?

Along with going head-to-head with other Web-based applications, Google Docs is competing with Microsoft's SharePoint, a collaborative Web portal that is a free component of Windows Server.

DeGroot said that Microsoft's solution is expensive and doesn't lend itself to interorganization sharing. "Companies developing Web-based applications are, to some extent, limiting the effectiveness of Microsoft's most important Office strategy, which says Office tools are a great way to collaborate and communicate," DeGroot said.

"The difficulty there is that Microsoft's strategy really lacks a Web element," he concluded. "Google's solutions are inherently collaborative inside and outside of an organization."