Google`s New Collaborative Docs

Who would have thought that "organizing all the world’s information" could cover so much ground? In following its mission statement, Google has become much more than a search engine. This means it ends up competing with many companies on battlegrounds other than search. This article talks about Google’s updates to Google Docs, a product that has more in common with Microsoft’s Word than the company’s own search engine.

These days it seems as if Google is content to make enemies by stepping into other’s territory without much of an apology. The latest example of this was in 2009 when Google Docs was taken out of Beta and widely released. In a very short amount of time, Google Docs has managed to become both a smash hit and a major rival to Microsoft Word.

Aside from having the huge advantage of being free (Microsoft Office, and specifically Word in this case, is quite expensive), Google Docs also comes equipped with many–if not all–of the same features as Word. We can’t dismiss the service’s non-existent price tag too quickly, though, because it’s something that not only sets it apart from Microsoft, but it also sets it apart from other document sharing services, which usually require users to pay a fee. Not only that, but Google Docs also has the added benefit of combining the features of Writely and Spreadsheets, essentially acting as a web-based word processor, spreadsheet, presentation, form, and data storage service.

Users can now even collaborate in real-time with other users using the service. The collaboration features available in Google Docs may make this software suite a far more powerful tool than is Microsoft Office. Obviously, Microsoft now has some stiff competition, especially after Google unveiled new versions of Google Docs this past April. First, let’s discuss some of Google Doc’s most basic, initial features.

Google Docs Features

Google Docs is part of a growing series of free products called “software as a service,” which are usually characterized by being online versions of similar office suites. With Google Docs in particular, spreadsheets, documents, presentations, and forms can be created within the app, and can then be imported using the web or sent using e-mail.

This wouldn’t be a very useful service unless the documents could be saved to a user’s computer, and in the case of Google Docs, users can save their documents in a variety of formats, including ODF, HTML, PDF, RTF, Text, and Word. When saving these documents, they’re also saved to Google servers. This is quite helpful, because open documents are automatically saved in order to prevent the user from losing any data. Even more useful, the revision history of the document being made is kept on record as well.

The free Google Docs service is very big on organization, which is why it enables users to tag and archive their documents no matter what browser they’re using, as it supports Internet Explorer, Firefox, Safari, Chrome, and browsers running on Windows, Apple OS X, and Linux. The only downfall, if it could even be called that, is that Google limits how much users can store on their account. Currently, Google Doc users can store 5,000 documents or presentations, 5,000 images, 1,000 spreadsheets, and 100 PDFs. They are limits, but they’re not too shabby, and most likely far exceed the amount of documents and images the average person needs. Single documents cannot exceed 1 GB and as of January, spreadsheets are limited to 256 columns, 200,000 cells, and 99 sheets, and embedded images can’t exceed 2 MB each.

The last feature outlined here is perhaps the coolest, as it enables users and non-users to collaborate in the editing of a document in real-time online. More specifically, multiple users can share, open, and edit documents at the same time, and in the case of spreadsheets, all users participating in the editing process will be notified by e-mail of any changes made to the document.

Aside from being one of the latest software-as-a-service offerings, Google Docs is also in line with another trend: cloud computing, which is basically computing online. Technically, Google Docs is a cloud computing document sharing service, and it’s proving to be very good for business — and not just Google’s business, either. The service’s popularity among companies big and small is growing rapidly because of its enhanced sharing features and accessibility.

Google wouldn’t be Google without being fully aware of itself and its capabilities on the market, which is probably why the company has outlined multiple reasons why its service is the wave of the future. According to the California-based company, here are some of the ways it’s useful to businesses of all sizes:

  • Protects your company’s documents – Administrators have fine-grained controls to manage how broadly employees can share corporate documents.

  • Work together without the hassles of attachments – Coworkers can share the same online copy of each doc, spreadsheet or presentation. All revisions are saved and recoverable.

  • Present and publish through the web – Presentations can be delivered to remote audiences, and documents and spreadsheets can be published internally for employees to view.

  • Interoperate with traditional file formats – Import and collaboratively edit or publish from .doc, .xls, .csv, .ppt, .txt, .html, .pdf and other formats. You can export as well.

Taking Collaboration One Step Further

A new version of Google Docs was released in April, and not only did the company improve upon the basic features, but they also decided to take the service’s collaboration abilities one step further. With these new collaborative features comes better editing apps that are faster and more responsive than any of the company’s previous versions. Not only that, but it’s now easier to import various kinds of files to the cloud, and images of all kinds can easily be moved around on pages, which is a feature that users were missing before. It appears as if the competition between Google and Microsoft is going to intensify because Microsoft’s Office 2010, which will have its own collaboration and cloud features, is set to be released around the same time.

In short, the new and improved Google Docs offers users considerable collaboration tools, along with faster, more helpful spreadsheet abilities, improved editing and formatting, and even new collaborative drawing software. In other words, this is an absolutely necessary upgrade for users that consider collaboration to be of vital importance.

Unlike previous versions of Google Docs, users can now see the changes that people make to their documents in real time as the person is typing. When someone else is typing, a colored cursor appears in movement with their changes, with each person getting their own colored cursor that displays their name.

Another new feature, so obviously necessary it’s a surprise Google didn’t think of it until recently, allows users to IM as they work on their document. When other users are working on the same document, a list of names appears, enabling them to click on whomever they want to chat with. Users can even read other chats taking place pertaining to the document. Previously, these features were only part of Google Docs spreadsheet, but now that they’re included in the word processor portion of the service, it can be considered a significant step forward for collaboration.

There are even more changes to the word processor to point out, but it should be noted that the Google Docs word processor, even with all of the changes, is still not as powerful as Word. The new features help, but it’s still not on the same level as what many would consider the original word processor, so that’s a point for Microsoft.

Let’s not dwell on the negative, though. Some outstanding new Google Docs word processor updates include a ruler and tab stops, which sounds minute but actually makes it much easier to format documents and create proper margins. Other updates include better handling of comments and embedded images in documents.

Like the word processor, the Google Docs spreadsheet isn’t quite as powerful as Excel. New features have been added there as well, however, which is a step in the right, more powerful direction.

One of the most noticeable changes pertains to speed, as Google’s spreadsheets now load much more quickly than those in previous versions. Not only that, but the scrolling is also smoother and more like a desktop app than a web-based one.

A formula bar has also been added, which makes editing cells much easier. It should also be noted that Autocomplete has been added. Though it’s still not Excel, this makes it much easier to drag and drop columns and rows.

As mentioned previously, Google Docs now has a drawing tool that can easily be likened to Windows Paint, because of how simplistic and basic it is. The tool comes equipped with the usual suspects: tools for adding pictures and text, a tool for drawing lines, a tool for filling areas with color, etc.

Users be warned: you will not be able to create cutting edge graphics with this new feature, but it does make it easier to copy and paste the graphics you may have created and placed on other documents. This tool has also been equipped with collaborative abilities, as it enables users to chat while using it and see changes others have made to their documents while they’re being made. This definitely won’t be a tool that gets a lot of use, but it’s nice to know it exists just in case.

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