Monday, October 23, 2006

Google Docs & Spreadsheets - a review

This post has been updated with some corrections


When I first read the article in the Associated Press (October 15th) about Google releasing its word processing and spreadsheet programs for free on their web site, it piqued my interest. I was happy that there would be a free tool for students to use to write their research papers and resumes. Even with the student discount programs, Microsoft Office is still expensive for cash-strapped students. While OpenOffice is a very good option for free word processors, it can be a task to download (except for Linux users, sinc OpenOffice comes with most distros of Linux). I was also happy that there was an easy tool to allow teams to easily collaborate on one document. On the other hand, I was concerned about security since this package was on the Web, and the documents are initially published on the Web. Plus, certain people, such as professors and future employers, demand that the documents that they receive are in Microsoft Word format.

So I decided to try Google Docs and Spreadsheets for myself.

The Test

In order to use Google Docs & Spreadsheets, you have to sign up for Google services, which is free to do. Sign-up is very easy - it took me about 5 minutes to do.

I focused my test with the word processor. It was very easy to use. If you are used to using Web text editors when you are publishing blogs or writing messages to a board, you will be able to use the word processor easily. It took me about 10 seconds (yes - 10 seconds) to get used to the interface. It was very intuitive.

One of my concerns was that future employers, as well as professors, usually accept documents in Word format only. No worries - Google Docs and Spreadsheets has added capability to download your document to your local machine in Word, OpenOffice, or RTF format! Plus, you can upload your own OpenOffice or Word documents to Google Docs and Spreadsheets.

Another concern that I had was security, since with Google Docs and Spreadsheets, you are working on the Internet. The good news is that Google Docs and Spreadsheets has features to allow you to control who can view and modify your documents.

I had two "cons" with this package:

  • If I wanted to develop a graphically robust document with fancy layouts, I couldn't do it with Google Docs and Spreadsheets.

  • There is no way to download the document in PDF format - I have to download the document to my machine in Word format, and use my Adobe Acrobat plug-in to convert the document from Word to PDF. Note: I understand that there may be some "hoops" that Google may need to jump in order to be able to convert the documents to PDF.

    Correction: I have just noticed that the Google Docs and Spreadsheets package does allow you to download to PDF format - hooray!

However, these are very small "cons" that won't prevent me from using this package.

The Verdict

Based on what I've tried, I really liked the package. It was very easy to use. The package gives me the ability to download my work to my local machine in case I needed my document in Word or OpenOffice format. I also like the portability of the tool. If I'm working on a paper, I don't need to haul my laptop or my flash stick everywhere. However, this tool won't cause me to get rid of Word or Acrobat yet. I still need Word for more complex (fancier) publications, and I need Acrobat to publish my tutorial documents in PDF format. (Not anymore! Google Docs and Spreadsheets package does allow you to download to PDF format.)

If you need a word processor to write papers and create resumes, give this package a try.

1 comment:

Eddie Fitzgerald said...

I just skimmed your recent posts and was immensely impressed even though I didn't understand some of what you were saying. I was reminded once again that you have a real passion for teaching and for your profession! That's inspiring!

Are you really going to get a PH.D? That's so cool!