As I mentioned in my last post, I’m encouraging our teachers to use Google Docs with their classrooms through our new Spart5.info domain. Our district, like most in the state, has standardized on Microsoft Office. We have no intention of changing our basic productivity platform. I think of Google Docs as a complement to, rather than competitor to Microsoft Office.
I’ve been using Google Docs personally for a couple of years now. The convenience of cloud computing was just becoming apparent, and I liked the idea of having my work available on any computer I happened to use, as long as it was online. I first tried it in earnest with an online course I was taking for recertification. It just seemed like a good place to keep everything together.
I’m using Google Docs more and more now, but most often I use it for documents that I need to find quickly – reference documents such as my resume, circuit ID numbers, etc. I also use it for keeping notes at various meetings because it’s so easy to share the notes.
I’ve got a little Dell netbook that I use all the time (I’m using it to type this right now.) Unfortunately, it’s a first-generation netbook with limited processing power and only a 16 GB solid state hard drive. I just don’t have room for MS-Office, so I rely on Google Docs and the ability to be online just about anywhere.
As mentioned before, I think of G-Docs as more an extension of MS Office. I can import and export common file types such as DOC, XLS, and PPT, and even PDF. Probably 75% of what most users do in Microsoft Office can be done in Google Docs. I haven’t done an exhaustive comparison between the products, but here are some things I’ve noticed…
Google Documents – The user interface is very straightforward, and easy to use. For basic formatting and typing, it’s great. It’s easy to add images to documents, either from your hard drive or from online. However, I’ve found that when I try importing MS-Word documents with images or intricate formatting, I run into problems. Sometimes I have to re-edit, or just have to live with it not looking exactly as it did in the original version. In other words, formatting isn’t as easy in Google Docs.
Google Spreadsheets – Again, the user interface is nice and simple. There are the basic spreadsheet functions one would expect, as well as the ability to create multiple sheets and add graphs, graphics, etc. However, like its Documents counterpart, formatting can be limited. One other missing component is advanced analysis tools such as pivot tables. However, it does provide the ability to create online forms for surveys, etc., very quickly and cleanly.
I have to admit that I’ve not used many of the calculating functions of Google Spreadsheets. I’ve used it mostly to organize tabular data.
Google Presentations – Here’s where the differences between Office and Google become more glaring, and where teachers may be more disappointed. The number of available templates and design layouts is quite limited, compared to PowerPoint. You can find others online, but it’s not as intuitive as PowerPoint.
Animation also seems to be totally lacking. There are no slide transitions, and you can’t get your bulleted points to fly in. But, maybe that’s a good thing. I’ve seen presenters get so wrapped up in the glitz that they ignore the content. You can, however, still add images, audio, and video, so you can still add interactive content.
Personally, I prefer giving presentations with PowerPoint than with Google Presentations. However, as a way to share content online, this is a nice option.
Overall – I’ve had some problems with copy-and-paste in Google Docs. I can copy within the Google applications themselves, but have sporadic trouble copying from a Google document or spreadsheet and pasting into another application. This seems most problematic with spreadsheets. I think something is amiss with the ability to copy cells.
Collaboration and Sharing
This is the one area where Google Docs really shines over MS-Office. Since the content is already online, the ability to provide a link to that material is trivial. Presentations, documents, and spreadsheets can be embedded in blogs and other websites. Documents can be shared and edited by others, even if they don’t have a Google account.
Google Docs doesn’t have all the functionality of Microsoft Office, but it does most of what you need. It’s great if you want to share documents and work collaboratively with someone who might not have Office, such as students in a home situation.
Recently Google added the ability to upload any type of file to your Docs folder. You can use your allotted space as an online storage drive for more than just documents.
There is also the issue of having to be online to get to your stuff. For me, this isn’t a problem as I have my cool Android phone and can tether my laptop or netbook to it. There are some options for pulling Google Docs data to the desktop with Google Gears, but I’ve not found these to be a true solution. You can edit existing documents, but cannot create new ones. There are other limitations in trying to bring Google to the desktop. However, I see a time when Google overcomes these problems, and becomes a true competitor to Microsoft in the productivity market.