Is Google Docs Ready to Tackle Microsoft Office?

There are other useful changes to the word processor as well. Google Doc's word processor has always been severely underpowered compared to Word. This new version is still not nearly as powerful, but some very important features have been added.

Key among these are a ruler and tab stops, making it far easier to create proper margins and to format documents. There have also been several other tweaks, including better handling of comments and images in documents.

What's New in the Spreadsheet

The Google Docs' spreadsheet is not as powerful as Excel, but as with the Google Docs' word processor, important new features have been added.

Is Google Docs Ready to Tackle Microsoft Office?
The Google Docs spreadsheet now includes a formula bar for editing cells.

Spreadsheets load more quickly than in the previous version, and scrolling is smoother -- more like a desktop application than a Web-based one, which can be herky-jerky at times.

Also useful is the addition of a formula bar for editing cells. In the previous version, you did your editing in the cell itself, which was difficult because it was hard to read what you were doing and there was little space in which to work. Now it works more like Excel.

Autocomplete has also been added, and you can now drag and drop columns. It's still not Excel, but all these improvements make it far easier to use the Google Docs spreadsheet.

New Drawing Tool

Google Docs' new drawing tool is fairly rudimentary -- it's very much like Windows Paint. You'll find the usual tools for drawing lines, adding objects and text, filling areas with color and so on. But nothing beyond that, so don't expect to create high-quality graphics.

To use the graphics you've created in other documents, you copy them using what Google Docs calls its Web clipboard, which you access via an icon in the toolbar. This makes it easy to copy items between Google Docs applications and documents. The Web clipboard keeps items pasted into it for a month.

Where Google Drawing beats Paint is in collaboration -- as in the rest of Google Docs, you can chat while using it, and see changes that other people make while they make them. Still, it's not likely that many people will make a great deal of use of this tool.

Is Google Docs Ready to Tackle Microsoft Office?
Google's new drawing tool is rudimentary, much like Windows Paint.

The Upshot

This new release strengthens Google Docs' collaboration capabilities, and gives it some of the features and benefits of a client-based office suite like Microsoft Office. Based on what I've seen of the Office 2010 betas, it's superior to the upcoming Web-based version of Office, but still not as powerful as the client version.

One major drawback of Google Docs is the lack of offline access for documents. Although Google claims that will be fixed in the future, it gives no date for when it will happen.

Despite the improvements, it's not likely that this new version will convince many people to give up Microsoft Office. However, it may well draw in those who currently use Office, but also want to use Google Docs for collaboration or Web-based document creation and editing. This new version is certainly not anything close to an Office killer, but may well help the overall acceptance of Google Docs.

Preston Grallais a contributing editor to Computerworld.com and the author of more than 35 books, includingHow the Internet Works(Que, 2006).

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