Google Docs: Word Herding

by Scott Roche on April 26, 2011 · 4 comments

in Service

This will be the first post in a multi-part post on the phenomenal tool that is Google Docs. First I tackle their Document features.

I write a lot more these days than I used to. I’m also collaborating on a staggering number of projects, and I need an easy way to share, create, and edit documents from any computer I happen to be near. I have a computer at work and two at home (one of which is a Mac) so while something like Dropbox might work, it’s not quite what I’m looking for. I need something that’s platform and software independent. Enter Google Docs.

First of all, you’re getting a word processor that’s got all of the important functionality of a Microsoft Word or Open Office. While there’s a lot you can do with those pieces of software that you can’t do with this, you’ve got access to spell check and most of the important formatting tools. If it ended there, it would still be nice to be able to access my documents from anywhere, but wait! There’s more.

Just like in any other word processor, you can insert images. The difference here is that you can search your Picasa account or do a Google image search and add pictures straight from there. Uploading images or using a URL is also allowed. The built in dictionary is a nice little touch if you don’t want to leave the browser. You’ll find all of these things in your regular programs. So what else is so special about Docs?

Of primary importance for me is the ability to share my documents granularly. That means, I give precisely the level of access I want to precisely the people I want to have it. This can be as simple as generating a link and allowing anyone with that to access and edit your project. While I don’t recommend that level of openness, the feature is there.

If you click Share and chose Sharing Settings, you’ll be provided with this box. Typing an email in the “Add People” box will give you the option to allow them to view or edit the document. You can change which option you chose at any time even removing the person from your list. Incidentally, if you’re already a GMail user (and why aren’t you?) you can use any lists or addresses already created in that address book.

Now that you’ve got the document shared, here comes the fun part. The Discussions button allows you and your collaborators to have a real time or offline chat. I’ve used this more than a few times to spitball ideas back and forth. If you have a problem or a question with a particular chunk of text, you can select it and choose Insert->Comment and it will put a text box on the sidebar. You and your editors can then go back and forth until the concerns are resolved.

The other feature that’s of greatest interest to me is it’s ability to convert your document into other formats.

Being able to download your Google Doc as a PDF or Word document is very useful when you’re ready to come off of the cloud. You can also print directly from Google Docs, whereas in the past it would force you to create a PDF, download it, and then print it. Google is constantly adding new features and my only real complaint is that they don’t always let you know about the new ones.

That’s about it for the word processor features in Google Docs. In future installments we’ll look at the spreadsheet, form creator, and presentation capabilities in addition to the other bells and whistles of the suite itself.

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