The Cloud, Day 4: Checking Out Google Docs

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30 Days With the Cloud: Day 4

As I spelled out on Day 3 of 30 Days With the Cloud, I am going to spend a day with each of the three online productivity suites to see how they meet my needs. After taking a look at each, I'll pick the one I want to use for the remainder of the cloud series. So, let's start with Google Docs.

User Interface

I actually like the Microsoft ribbon interface, and I am used to working with Microsoft Office programs and files using the ribbon. By comparison, the Google Docs menus seem a little old-fashioned, and limiting. That said, the necessary features and functions all seem to be represented and easily accessible, so the interface serves its purpose.

File Storage

Google Docs provides 1GB of free storage. It doesn't sound like much, but there is a caveat--none of the files Icreate in Google Docs, or files I convert to Google Docs formats count against the quota. So, in essence the file storage is virtually unlimited, with an additional 1GB of storage for non-Google Docs data.

Above and beyond the file storage provided by Google itself, though, Google Docs is also closely integrated with Box--which provides 5GB of storage for free. I am going to dig into the online storage options separately later in the 30 Days With the Cloud series, but I do use Box so I appreciate the partnership.

Google Docs is the first of the three cloud-based suites I am checking out.
Again, this is something that I will cover in more detail when I get into cloud storage, but Box lets me create new docs or spreadsheets with Google Docs right from the Box site. It is worth noting, however, that opening the files I already have stored on Box using Google Docs seems to be a complex process. If I click the option to edit a file from within Box, it actually uses Zoho Editor rather than Google Docs.


Google understands that it is important to be able to read from and save to the common Microsoft Office file formats. It has invested a significant amount of effort in working to maintain consistent formatting in converting the file back and forth.

The compatibility of Google Docs works fine with basic formatting, but the fidelity drops off quickly if I try to use advanced formatting features. Bold, italics, and underlining get converted without a problem, but if I have a document with tables, footnotes, a table of contents, or other formatting included, those things don't seem to translate well into Google Docs.

This is more important to some than others. Someone who regularly deals with Microsoft Office files from clients or suppliers, or someone who relies on advanced formatting features may not appreciate Google Docs. For my purposes, though, virtually everything I type into Word is simply copied and pasted into the PCWorld content publishing tool. I don't generally use fancy formatting, so Google Docs can meet my needs.

Sharing and Collaboration

This is the area where Google Docs really shines. It is simple for me to share files with other people and work on them together in real-time online. Google recently expanded the sharing and collaboration features to include Presentations, in addition to Documents and Spreadsheets.

I don't really use file sharing or real-time collaboration that much, but I do use it occasionally. When I do, it is almost always through Google Docs.


Google Docs works fairly well on my iPhone and iPad. I was able to open a file from Google Docs and click Edit to modify the contents while in Mobile mode in the Safari browser on my iPad. Things did get wonky when I tried switching to Desktop mode using the link at the bottom of the page. I got error messages and it seemed to freak out every time I tried to type something.

Being a Google product, it makes sense that it works best with Android. My Google login is already associated with my Motorola Xoom tablet, and there is a native Google Docs app. When I open the app, it immediately displays my files. With Android, using Google Docs just works.

Overall, Google Docs seems to work for my purposes just fine. We'll see how Zoho and Microsoft stack up in the next couple days.

Read the Last "30 Days" series: 30 Days With Windows Phone 7

Day 3: Choosing an Online Productivity Suite

Day 5: Taking a Look at Zoho Docs

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