Google tests scripting feature for online apps

About 1,000 companies will be selected to try it out in the coming weeks

Google will add scripting capabilities to Google Docs, allowing organizations to customize its online applications and automate tasks, the company said Wednesday.

Google plans to sign up about 1,000 customers over the next few weeks to test the feature, called Google Apps Script. It isn't saying yet when Apps Script will be widely available. Google Docs users can apply here to try it out.

It will be tested initially in Google Spreadsheets and extended to other Google Docs applications over time, said Jonathan Rochelle, product manager for Google Docs, in a press briefing at the Google I/O conference.

The scripting will allow organizations to build custom functions in spreadsheets, like translating figures from inches to millimeters, or translating text from one language to another. It will also enable applications to be linked together, allowing a user to send an email from within a spreadsheet, for example, or access a calendar from a list of addresses.

The company posted a video and some information about Apps Script in its Enterprise Blog.

The scripting should help Google to compete better with Microsoft's widely used Excel spreadsheet software, but it will also open a new front for security attacks and other potential issues.

"The nature of scripting is such that it could be easily abused," Rochelle acknowledged. "We want to make sure people can't make a mistake [such as] they coded something they don't know is happening."

Google will work to make it "bulletproof" before it's released to the public, he said. The company described it as "a puppy who's still in training," suggesting it has more work to do on it.

Google Apps Script is based on JavaScript, with object-based extensions added by Google, making it easy to learn, according to Rochelle. "It really is JavaScript, except there are certain things we don't let you do," he said.

There is not currently a way to import Excel macros, he said, but Google is considering that for the future. It expects Apps Script to appeal especially to systems integrators, who have been asking for it, he said.

Excel still has many more features and capabilities than Google Spreadsheets, but Rochelle argued that "user satisfaction" is a better measure by which to compare the products. "If 80 percent of people don't use the features then it doesn't matter" he said.

Several partners are at the show who offer integration services and develop add-on tools for Google Docs. Ed Laczynski, CTO of LTech, said his company has migrated "hundreds of thousands" of users from on-premise software to Google Apps. The company just released a tool that lets users download and backup their documents to a local disk.

Oracle is also in on the act. The company is about to release a beta tool that will let users of its Siebel customer relationship management software import and export data from Google Docs, said Dipock Das, a senior director with Oracle's CRM group.

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