Internet search titan Google is further encroaching on Microsoft's desktop territory with the launch of an online spreadsheet.

Although still considered a work in progress, the Google service offers consumers and businesses a free alternative to Microsoft's Excel application - part of the Office software suite that generated nearly $8 billion (€6.21bn; £4.27bn) of operating profits on revenues of $11bn last year.

The Google spreadsheet will be distributed initially to a limited audience while the Mountain View, California-headquartered company smoothes out any kinks and develops more features.

The Google offering is not as sophisticated as Excel. It will not, for example, create charts (as yet) nor provide a menu of controls that can be accessed by a mouse click. The designers insist, somewhat disingenuously, that it is intended to be complementary to Excel, not to rival it.

Product manager Jonathan Rochelle avers that users will turn to online spreadsheets mainly to share the information with other people on the web, or let others edit the information.

It is unlikely that Microsoft, however, will be mollified by such assurances.

For more information on Google's beta-version offering click here.

Data sourced from Financial Times Online; additional content by WARC staff