Google primps Docs and Sheets with third-party add-ons

Third-party developers can now add functions like mail merge or bibliographies to Google Docs and Sheets via new ecosystem

Google has decided to let third-party developers try their hands at broadening the functionality of Google Docs and Sheets by launching the first of a slew of third-party add-ons for those services.

Available add-ons include the likes of mail merge, a label merge system, a bibliography creator, an electronic signature system for signing documents, a document workflow system, and many other functions, some of which Google has been criticized for not providing directly in Docs or Sheets.

Adding a new feature in Docs or Sheets is easy enough: Select "Add-ons" from the main menu, and choose an add-on from the gallery. Add-ons are installed server-side, not client-side, so they're not tied to any particular client. Right now, the gallery is small, with about 30 products currently available, but Google's blog post on the subject hints at many more on the way.

Most of the debates about Google Docs/Sheets revolve around whether the app can ever completely replace the likes of a local app like Microsoft Office or OpenOffice.org/LibreOffice. The add-on system likely won't change the picture much, but at least it helps plug many of the functionality holes that have shown up in Google Docs and Sheets over time.

One possible downside to add-ons: It might give Google that much less incentive to improve core Docs and Sheets products. If Google comes to believe whole swaths of functionality are best left to third parties, end-users may find themselves beholden to not just one but multiple third parties for the sake of accomplishing everything they need.

It's also hard not to worry about what happens if a given add-on is ditched by its own company. If it were a physical software product, it could still continue to be used in some form, even if it lacked for support or new features. Odds are any Google Docs/Sheets add-on that's discontinued by its creators will simply cease to exist.

Still, some fairly major names are providing many of the add-ons -- reassuring news. The label merge app is courtesy of Avery, for example, and the mail-merge add-on is by Mailchimp. And the overall convenience of Google's app system, with nothing to download and nothing to install locally, ought to appeal to users and companies with modest needs.

This story, "Google primps Docs and Sheets with third-party add-ons," was originally published at InfoWorld.com. Get the first word on what the important tech news really means with the InfoWorld Tech Watch blog. For the latest developments in business technology news, follow InfoWorld.com on Twitter.

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