“ Online document creation „
Google Docs is a fully featured Office Suite similar to the suite offered by Microsoft, the main difference being that Google's product is offered exclusively online.
Any work you do in Docs is saved onto Google's servers rather than your hard drive, meaning it can then be read or edited from any internet enabled PC or Mac. This may sound like a small difference but it can save you the hassle of saving all your work onto a USB stick and the worry that you'll lose all of your work should your computer break or be stolen.
Another interesting feature of Docs is the ease at which it allows you to collaborate on a project. Simply open a new document, spreadsheet or presentation and invite the other people working on the project to access your work.
They are then free to read and edit your work however they like and should you not like the changes made it's easy to highlight recent changes and then change them back if need be.
Google docs is a internet site and online resource for creating documents which are manipulated and stored online using Google's servers. There is the added bonus that you can choose to allow access rights to any individual users and select people who you will allow to edit the content as well. This allows you to create documents collaboratively which is useful if people are spread out over some distance. I use this for creating group reports for university.
The documents you can produce are word processing, spreadsheets and presentations. The functionality in each of these applications is useful but minimal. Generally speaking the level is amount the same as the office works version of the Office suite from Microsoft.
Sometimes I find that the invitations to other users to edit your documents fails. I am not sure why this happens but it can be very annoying. I think it might be when you try to use a non gmail.com email address from a user who does not have one. In recent months Google has come up with a new product with much better collaborative features which is known as wave and currently only available through invitation but used together the two act as a very good productivity tool for working in spread out groups
Google is a company we have all heard of and I'm sure is one of the most used search engines. But google also has a range of other online facilities, one of which is google docs.
You need a google account to use google docs, but this is easy to set up - a bit like creating an email account, so you'll need a username and password and a very little bit of personal info. A google account will also give you access to googles other services, such as calendar and reader.
Once you sign in to google docs, you get to a pretty easy to use user interface. It's cleanly laid out, and the buttons are all self-explanatory, so I won't go through all that here.
You can then either create documents straight onto google docs, or you can upload something from your computer. You can use or produce documents along the lines of Microsoft Word, PowerPoint or Excel. The brilliant thing about google docs is that these documents are then accessible to you anywhere that you can get an internet connection. You simply sign into your google account and work on them as you wish. There is also an autosave feature so documents are saved every few seconds, which avoids the risk of losing everything if your connection fails.
I haven't used PowerPoint with google docs, but only Word and Excel. Some files I've uploaded, some I've created, and both have gone smoothly. The screen you see when you open a document is pretty similary to the Office screen. However, you do have slightly more limited functionality, but nothing that should affect fairly standard documents.
You can also arrange your files into folders, just like on a hard drive, and I do like this feature. There are other nice touches like being able to 'star' a particular file, and easily seeing when they were last modified.
I personally find google docs very useful for keeping some of my personal documents that I update regularly, things that are keeping track of something, or the sort of 'note to self' type documents. It means that if something occurs to me or if I have an update to make, I can do it from home, in my work lunchbreak, or if I am out and about at the library or similar. For that alone, I think it's worthwhile and would highly recommend it. I have not used it for huge or complex documents, so can't comment on how it performs there.
There is another feature though which some might find particularly appealing. You can share documents with other people. So if you are working on something, you can share it with others and wherever they are in the world they can access it. I have never used this though, so can't comment, but it certainly sounds like a good idea.
Overall a great service for me - and of course, being from google, it's FREE!
I hit a stage last year with a dying laptop where it needed to have its operating system reinstalled several times. Such a thing makes you get a bit cross about lost documents, and a bit impatient about re-installing programs -- especially programs like MS Office where after a certain amount of re-installs you find yourself ringing the call centre to apologetically explain that yes, your laptop really IS that bad. So, I turned to Google Docs for an online office system I didn't have to install.
First the good. Google docs lets you work on presentations, word processing and spreadsheet documents. You can create from scratch, upload, or import from a link on the web. You can also store any file up to 100MB. You can share files to be edited, or publish them online. Oh, and it's free.
Most useful is the fact that as it's online if your computer dies (repeatedly even) you can still grab a copy from another machine.
The bad -- it's extremely basic. If you just want basic spreadsheeting it's fine, but don't expect to be able to make macros that do your work while you go get a cuppa. Similarly, it's not going to let you auto-generate your table of contents while word-processing. You don't really get all that much more functionality than Notepad.
Importing documents with a link works fine when it's an open online site. If you're getting it from a secure area, the process of save to computer, switch to google docs and upload is annoying when all you want to do is have a quick look. And some documents it just seems to mangle -- it made a horrifying mess of some forms.
The killer, however, is large documents. Because Google Docs runs online it's not dependent on your computer speed but the speed of the server. That's fine on smaller documents, but when you get to around 8000 words it's starting to slow down. By 15000 words its unusable -- you might as well go get a cuppa while it tries to catch up with your typing.
If you have a lot of long documents to write this, more than anything, kills it. For 1000 word scribbles though, you're pretty much safe.
Most people have used Microsoft Office or if not one of its competitors such as StarOffice. Most of these office "suites" tend to include at the very least a word processor, spreadsheet and presentation system in the case of Microsoft Office, Word, Excel and PowerPoint respectively. By default most people seem to end up with these office packages on there home or work computer even if in truth they use about 10% of the features that they offer. I know people who have bought Office and use as many features in Microsoft Word that can actually be found in WordPad or Notepad that ship with Windows by default. If you use an office suite its also pretty hard to share and collaborate on documents even with added infrastructure in place such as Microsoft SharePoint sites used by some businesses. Normally you end up e-mailing people copies of the document which then comes back to you with changes and hey presto - you now have 2 copies of the file. You also need to worry about the backup of your data because the documents you create tend to be stored on your hard disk or on a file server somewhere.
Google Docs is a free online alternative - actually offline too as I will explain shortly - that includes the ability to create all three of the standard files you would expect in an office suite - documents, spreadsheets and presentations as well as "forms" which are used to create spreadsheets too. Basically the system runs within your web browser be that Internet Explorer, Firefox or whatever and for this reason doesn't care what operating system you are running on either be it Windows, Ubuntu or something like your mobile phone. Because its a Google service my initial thought was that the system would be unavailable if I didn't have an internet connection. This isn't the case. Yes you need to be online to sign up for the service and synchronise your data but if you install something called Google Gears an offline copy of all our your documents are available when not connected to the internet. I will cover working offline a little later.
Another big advantage is that your documents are stored online so if you need them you can get them anytime from anywhere as long as you have an internet connection. This is unlike the standard situation you will find yourself in with documents on your actual hard disk. As I said earlier I should also repeat the important fact that Google docs is free.
Creating an account..
This is very quick and easy. Just visit the http://docs.google.com web site and sign up. If you already have a google mail account you are ready to go. If not just enter a valid e-mail address and create a password. I will mention it later but if you want to use Docs offline (i.e. with no internet connection) you are better signing in with a googlemail account.
Using the various applications..
The Docs interface
When you open Docs you first see a list of your documents sorted by default on date modified. This can be changed to view by name etc. You can also create folders at this point which show along the left hand side of the screen. Using these you can organise your documents which can be put into these folders using drag and drop. Each document shows information such as when it was last modified and if its shared with other people. You can rename and delete documents from here and also search through all of your documents for certain keywords. It is here by that you start new documents by clicking on the "Create new" button.
You firstly create a new document from a blank sheet or from a template. In case you aren't used to the various office suites a template is a predefined format to base the new document on. containing information you would add to every document based on it. Docs come with an impressive array of these either created by Google or by other people who have submitted them. These include the likes of resume/CV's, cover letters, basic invoices, business plans, fax cover sheets etc. Templates are also available for the spreadsheets and presentations.
Either way you end up with the typing screen which will look pretty much like any "windows" based word processor you may have used. Most of the tool bar options people are used to are there, File, Edit etc.
All of the standard stuff is there for "basic" word processing - changing the font, size, bolding, italic etc and adding tables if needed. You can also create headers, footers, paragraph styles, do spell checking, add images etc.
How does it compare with say Microsoft Word 2007. Well its not in the same league as far as features go's - what you have to ask is how many of these do you actually use though?
The one thing I did find a bit fiddly was formatting tables. I guess I am used to how easy this is in Microsoft Word and found just moving the size of columns to be a bit of a hassle. One thing I found very useful however was "revisions" which allows you to go back to an older version of your document. I found this useful on a couple of occasions after accidentally deleting a chunk of text and saving my document.
Like the word processing this is again a very usable application. I use this to do my home accounts but in all honesty I dont use spreadsheets for much more than that with simple additions. Would I be able to just use this if I was a top financial type person - I doubt it. However it does have some nifty little features such as online look up of company share ticker information for example.
Of all the Office applications I find Excel gets the most use from power users and they want the big features. A lot of those features are just not available in Google Docs.
I have been a big user of Microsoft Powerpoint since its inception but generally I would have to say that I don't really use any more features now (even though there are loads!) than I did when I first used it. I have slides with a background with information on them and that's about it. When you create a new slide you get the option of 5 different slide layouts. For this the presentation part seems to work fine. You can also add standard stuff such as speaker notes. You can also do things such as insert video for instance which allows you to search YouTube and also insert an image and point to a web location for the image.
As I said earlier with the word processing you can base your presentation on a number of predefined templates.
Collaborating is one of the really good things about using Google Docs. Let me give an example of how 3 people (I will be original and just call them X, Y and Z!) who are working on a presentation based newsletter for the local football team might currently do this. Lets presume all have Microsoft Office and each has a e-mail account at the likes of Yahoo! and Hotmail etc. Lets say X creates a presentation in PowerPoint and then e-mails this to Y and Z to see what they think and to change it and add things as necessary. Both of these have to save the file from e-mail and work on it and send it back. X receives both back via e-mail, saves them and has to look through both to merge them together. X now has three different version of the presentation to contend with. With Google docs you don't send an attachment you send a link and give people the chance to work online with it directly. To do this you just open the document, click the "share" button and provide the e-mail addresses of the people who need to work on it. If these are accounts that have Google Docs they can just open them up and work on them. When complete X can publish the presentation directly onto the internet for the team members to view it. You also get supplied with code so you can embed this into a current web site or post it on a blog.
As previously mentioned I had thought that I would have to be connected to the internet to work with Docs. This is not the case and you have an "offline" button within Docs. When you click this for the first time you are prompted to install Google Gears. This makes any documents you have created available offline (basically it copies them down to your hard disk). From a security point of view this isn't something you would particularly want to do on a shared computer however.
Generally speaking I found the offline access to work fine with a couple of exceptions. Firstly (and I couldn't personally find this in the online help) you have to be using a google account name to log in - i.e. when you create an account you can use any login name or a NAME@googlemail.com account. Only the latter seem to work offline. Secondly making my documents offline via a company proxy/firewall did not work correctly - a direct connection to the internet fixed this. You also have to install Gears for each web browser you use - for instance on my machine I had to install it for both Internet Explorer and Firefox. When you exit and enter Docs your documents are synchronised so the latest versions or are on both the compute and the internet. Overall the whole offline system seems to work pretty well
Integration with other office suites..
The biggest problem you will have with Docs is the integration with current office suites and working with other people who are still using them. If you want to import documents into Docs then you should be fine with most formats although certain features are not supported such as footnotes, tables of contents and pivot tables for example. You can import word processed documents in most of the formats produced by Microsoft Office and StarOffice for instance. There are some size limitations that may catch you out however - Word documents for instance can only be 500 KB in size which is pretty small. Spreadsheets are a little better at 1MB and presentations from PowerPoint can be imported up to 10MB in size. I personally have a lot of files over this size which I was unable to import however this is often down to bad formatting of the documents in the first place - see my review on NX PowerLite for more information on this. In my tests most Word, Excel and PowerPoint files uploaded fine.
One problem you wont get round easily though is getting e-mailed a large Word document for instance from another source. If you receive a small Word document to your googlemail account you can open it in Docs or view it as HTML. However if its large as mentioned above you can only view it in HTML format so cant edit it.
Clearly Microsoft Office is the competition for Google Docs that you would normally install on your PC. Google aren't taking on Microsoft as far as operating systems go anytime soon so have wisely taken the approach that you don't actually need a certain operating system to install an office suite on or rather it doesn't matter which one you use as long as you have a web browser. Google Docs has online competition as well though in the likes of ThinkFree and Zoho which are also very usable. For me Google has the advantage other these already with its brand name and the tie in with the very popular Google Mail.
Is this the death of Microsoft Office then? Certainly not yet. Firstly if you need the extra features that the various parts of that suite offer you aren't going to get them just yet in Google Docs.
None of the Google applications have anywhere near the same number of options that Microsoft Office have - but do you need them all ? I don't doubt though that Google are adding new features all the time to try and catch up. Secondly because such a large number of people already use Microsoft Office and have trained on it in shook, college and previous work no business is going to want to change to another system anytime soon. Finally large documents maybe received via e-mail cannot be opened or imported into Docs. Microsoft though must be looking at these online packages and no they have to offer more down that route soon and have started addressing this with "OfficeLive" which has online collaboration and I will try and review at some point also.
Many people, and certainly organisations, will also be concerned that there data is stored on a file server somewhere on the internet that is not under there control. Its unlikely but what if Google you loose your data because of a crash, virus or hacking?
Where I think Google Docs is ahead of Microsoft Office without having to get extra infrastructure in place is collaboration though. Its quite scary that in my own "Microsoft" work environment we are constantly having problems with limits on disk space, e-mail size, sharing files between sites that have low bandwidth connections and that our users would actually be better using Google Docs in some respects. Clearly in a corporate environment you dont want to be loosing control of your systems like this with people just signing up to these sort of services.
You also have to consider the ease of upgrades. When you decide to upgrade from Office whatever to the latest version you may have to do this on anything from one to thousands of computers. New versions of Google Docs will just be there so there are no upgrade hassles to worry about. With Office you also have to worry about the data - if you are not storing it on local machines you need a back-end server to store it. And if on local machines how are you backing the data up?
As far as speed goes using Google Docs its a double edged sword. Its an online service and I have found it fine as far as this goes. If you have want to compare it with Office it very much depends if you have this installed on a very slow or fast machine On a final note I should mention I had previously read some time ago about problems connecting to Google Docss and various errors people were getting. In the time I have been using it I haven't failed to get on to do my work.
If you work for a decent sized company then I suspect you wont be moving away from the likes of Microsoft Office anytime soon. If you are home user, small office or club/etc. then I would say Google Docs is worth a look especially for the collaboration tools and if you dont wont to have to worry about file servers etc. to store you data. As your business grows then maybe its worth looking at Google Apps which is the premium service for Docs. Clearly some sort of online collaboration options are the future and dont be surprised to see an online version of Microsoft Office in some shape or form sometime soon. I rate Google Docs as highly as I do Microsoft Office but for the different reasons and they cant be compared like for like. Google Docs is just very good at the target audience it is currently aimed at.