On Tuesday, Google Drive added a way for its Docs and Sheets office apps to tap into third-party plug-ins, giving both services additional features that Google hasn't supplied itself.
The "plug-ins for Docs and Sheets" directly compete with the Apps for Office program that Microsoft launched last year. And the three apps that Google highlighted as part of its program address some of the weaknesses Google Docs (now part of Google's Drive cloud-storage service) has compared to Office itself.
"To help take some of that work off your shoulders, today we're launching add-ons—new tools created by developer partners that give you even more features in your documents and spreadsheets" Saurabh Gupta, a Google product manager, wrote in a blog post on Tuesday.
Here's how the new add-ons work: From either Docs or Pages, click on the "Add-Ons" menu item at the top of the page. From there, you'll be asked to add one or more add-ons, very similar to the way you can add packaged apps to a ChromeOS Chromebook, for example. I counted 34 plug-ins that users could add to Docs, and 29 for Sheets. However, the only way to tap into the new plug-ins for Sheets is to opt into the new version that Google launched last December.
Right now, Google appears to be launching with fewer apps that what Microsoft offers inside of its Office Store, although you'll find some "crap apps" there in Microsoft's store, such as a placeholder text generator. However, there are some exclusives: Microsoft offers an Avery Templates app, but Google offers an improved version that allows a user to actually merge addresses to create labels. Google is also highlighting EasyBib Bibliography Creator—a capability Office has had for some time, but that Google's Docs never offered. And there's Letterfeed's Track Changes add-on, as well.
In other words, there's a pattern: Google is tapping into third-party development tools to address its most glaring weaknesses compared to Office. You'll find several template tools (Office provides these natively) as well as a Sheets plug-in to plug in Google Analytics data.
Microsoft added collaboration to its Office Web Apps (now dubbed Office Online) last year, and has embraced collaboration in a big way with a vision of Office that's shared and social. But app developers who brought their technology to the Office Store have said previously that they've been disappointed with the takeup from customers. So far, Google hasn't indicated how or whether it will allow Google Drive/Docs users to tap into live data queries, as Microsoft has, although those solutions are available on Google's developer site.
Still, Google can take its new plug-ins strategy as a strategic response to cities, school systems, and other agencies waffling between Microsoft Office and Google Docs, and who are unsure about moving away from the tried-and-true Office suite. Whether or not Google continues to add to its plug-in offerings is an open question.