Since its introduction last August, Writely has acquired a devoted following. For those not familiar with it, Writely bills itself as "The Web Word Processor." Users create, edit, and store documents via a web browser interface with a word processor feel. Documents can be stored on Writely or on a local machine, and the application can handle Word and OpenOffice.org documents.
In a posting on Google Blog, Google let it be known that it had acquired Writely earlier this week for an undisclosed amount. Current users are still able to use the service, but those wanting to sign up for Writely will be disappointed, as new registrations are not being accepted until Writely is moved "to Google"s software architecture."
Writely has been in beta since its appearance last summer. It has been a free service, although Upstartle, the small development firm that created it has made it clear that some sort of fee structure would be implemented once the beta was over. Some users have hailed it as a "Microsoft Word killer," which is a bit of an exaggeration. However, Writely does demonstrate the degree to which web applications have evolved, to the point where it"s no longer outside to realm of possibility to conceive of some very popular desktop applications being challenged and even supplanted by web-based application.
Google has shown little hesitation to snap up so-called Web 2.0 startups and other companies whose product they believe would fit into their portfolio. Aside from confirming that the deal went down, Google is staying close-mouthed about its future plans for Writely. Speculation has been rampant for some time that Google has a web-based productivity software suite in the works. When Google Page Creator played peek-a-boo briefly last month, some wondered if it was the beginning of a web-based office package.
Last fall, Google decided to throw some of its development weight behind OpenOffice.org. At the time, we imagined a scenario where Google Toolbar would link to a hosted office suite with remote storage. We recently learned that Google likely has a remote storage application in the works. Now the company has a web-based word processor. It could be that Google is merely interested in buying up companies that make interesting products when they can do so inexpensively, and Writely may have fit that description. Given some of the aforementioned developments with Google, I think that the Writely acquisition is a piece of a larger puzzle.