Google adds cell locking to spreadsheet app

The feature is intended to prevent conflicting changes when multiple people are co-editing a worksheet

Users' of Google's Spreadsheet application can now designate blocks of cells that only they can modify when they allow their worksheets to be edited by others.

By locking certain cell ranges, users can prevent conflicting and unintended changes, as Google Spreadsheet allows for real-time editing of worksheets by multiple participants, the company said in a blog post.

The new feature, called Protected Ranges, is part of the application's Named Ranges functionality, which lets users identify sets of cells with plain language names, instead of spreadsheet grid coordinates. Now, after giving a cell block a name, users can also limit who can edit it with the Protected Ranges feature.

Other new features include the ability to apply colors and patterns to cell borders and to search worksheet content using spreadsheet notations called "regular expressions." An example, according to Google, is ^[A-Z]+, which will find cells that start with uppercase letters.

The new features are available to people who use the spreadsheet application as part of the stand-alone Docs office productivity suite, and also to those who use Docs within the broader collaboration and communication Apps suite in workplaces and schools.

Cloud-based office productivity application suites like Google Docs and others benefitted for years from Microsoft's reluctance to offer its Office applications online.

However, Microsoft has been turning up the heat on its competitors, first with the release in 2010 of Office Web Apps, which includes online versions of Word, Excel, PowerPoint and OneNote that have a subset of the functionality of the full-featured desktop applications.

More recently, Microsoft announced that the new version of Office -- now in beta testing -- will be sold both via a traditional perpetual license with the Office 2013 brand, and also as a cloud-based subscription service under the existing Office 365 brand.

Although Google Docs has been available since 2006, its applications don't match the functionality of their Office counterparts, and heavy Excel users in particular tend to be unimpressed with Google Spreadsheet.

Juan Carlos Perez covers enterprise communication/collaboration suites, operating systems, browsers and general technology breaking news for The IDG News Service. Follow Juan on Twitter at @JuanCPerezIDG.

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