Day 7: Google Docs 'Fidelity' Leaves Something to Be Desired

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30 Days With...Google Docs: Day 7

Today's installment of 30 Days With...Google Docs will focus on ‘fidelity'--specifically how well Google Docs maintains fidelity with Microsoft Office when working with converted files.

Google Docs and the suite of online tools available from Google may be an adequate replacement for Microsoft Office for some organizations, but the world still revolves around Microsoft Office and much of the value of Google Docs is connected with how well it can create, view, and modify documents in the common Microsoft Office file formats.

Google Docs
Much of the value of Google Docs lies in how it works with Microsoft Office files--which is not very well in some cases.
The Merriam-Webster dictionary defines ‘fidelity' as: a) the quality or state of being faithful, b) accuracy in details: exactness. So, how does Google Docs measure up on the quality or state of being faithful with the formatting and conventions of Microsoft Office, and can it deliver accuracy in details or exactness when working with Microsoft Office file formats?

In a nutshell?...pretty damn good, really. The real answer, though, depends on the composition of your Microsoft Office file. The more advanced formatting or bells and whistles you employ from Microsoft Office, the less likely Google Docs can accurately maintain fidelity.

It was over a year ago that Google announced a revamped Google Docs with improved fidelity, stating, "The new technical foundation also helped us improve document formatting, which means better import/export fidelity, a revamped comment system, real margins and tab stops, and improved image layout within documents.

However, at the time Google made that claim, even the ‘improved' fidelity was atrocious. In fact, it might be fair to say that there was virtually no fidelity when it came to formatting or features beyond the core content. I wrote at the time about my experience trying to work with a Microsoft Word document in Google Docs, "Technically speaking, the text was there, and I was able to edit and work with the file, but the visual aesthetics of the doc were completely jacked."

I can tell you that Google Docs has improved by leaps and bounds since that time. I imported a Microsoft Word white paper I had written--complete with images and footnotes, and to my surprise it appeared virtually identical in Google Docs. The only noticeable difference was that the Microsoft Word table of contents (ToC) had been converted to links which corresponded with bookmarks inserted by Google Docs to allow you to jump from the ToC directly to that point in the document.

I was even able to add a footnote, insert an image in the Google Docs file, and include a new comment, and have those changes appear exactly as they should when I saved it back to Word. I dug a little deeper, though, and found that there are still some severe limitations to that fidelity, and that most of the things that Google Docs messes up in the Word file end up permanently jacked when you save the file back to the Microsoft Word DOC format.

For example, I converted a Word doc with a watermark, Microsoft SmartArt diagram, some text changed to a fancier alternate font, some changes noted with revision tracking, and with a comment inserted. None of those things are displayed in any way within the Google Docs version. Even worse, when you save the Google Docs file back to the Word DOC format, the only thing maintained from that original is the comment.

The watermark is gone .The SmartArt image is gone. The fancy text is converted to a completely different font. The revision tracking is erased. The ToC is permanently changed to the linked text Google Docs converted it to. But, the comment--which did not show up within Google Docs--is still there.

Based on my experience, Google has significantly improved the fidelity of Google Docs over the past year, but it has a long, long way to go before it can claim to have a quality or state of being faithful, or to demonstrate accuracy in details or exactness when it comes to converting Microsoft Office files. It is adequate for getting the job done on most basic files, but just as Google Docs itself lacks the more advanced features of Microsoft Office, so does its ‘fidelity'.

Tomorrow I will move on from documents and start exploring Google spreadsheets and presentations in more detail to see how they compare with what I am used to in Microsoft Excel and Microsoft PowerPoint.

Get the complete30 Days With Google Docsseries compiled into a Kindle eBook.

Day 6: I Miss Automatic Things That Just Work

Day 8: A First Look at Google Docs Spreadsheets

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