Sunday, August 03, 2008

Using Google Docs

This is ‘article weekend” – the time I spend each month penning articles. This is a busy weekend as I have an article for my Windows column due for ESM as well as a shorter  “Pro Virtulisation” piece also for ESM. The article is about Microsoft Optimisation and is due tomorrow.

For fun, I used Google Docs to write the article. In short, consider me underwhelmed. It was an interesting experiment, but Microsoft has not lost another Office customer – I had to use Word to clean up the article ready for publication.

My first gripe with the word processing bit of Google Docs is that there’s no styles or style sheet. My articles have a very simple set of styles (around 6-7 in all). Nothing very fancy – most of the real work is done by the publisher, but my style sheet is important. I rely on those few styles – but with Google Docs there are none. So before sending the doc off, I had to spend 15 minutes to tidy it up.

I also found it quite slow – I’d start typing and it could take 2-3 seconds before the text would start to appear on the page. This was somewhat disconcerting as I’m used to seeing things immediately when using smart clients like Word and Live Writer.

Google Docs also doesn’t play well with FireFox 3’s built in spelling checker. When editing a typo in a bullet list, the sell check is not active. Given my appalling spelling and typing, this is not a good thing.

And one very uncomfortable thing – several times, when saving, I got an error saying the document could not be saved. While lack of features is a problem, unreliability is a serious issue. If I can’t be confident of my data’s security, then cloud computing is not an option.

What I DID Like about it was the ability to access the document everywhere. I was able to use a PC in a classroom to add some content I found while searching at Lunch time. Previously, I’d have had to either remember of mail myself the link. The always available nature is compelling.

In summary, while there were some good things, I don’t think I’ll be using Google Docs to do the main writing. What I will probably do is to outline the document in Google Docs, then download what I’ve created in to Word to do the actual writing.

1 comment:

James said...

I haven't actually tried using it myself, but I can see one area where it could be extremely useful to me.

I'm currently in the early stages of putting together a conference, where we'll be getting 60-70 papers submitted. What I really need is a simple subset of Word functionality: spell check, a small pre-defined list of styles, and bold and italic - nothing more. The nearest I've been able to find so far has been Word's restrictions - which also disable bold and italic!

I suspect I'm going to end up having to write my own conversion tool to parse the Word documents and enforce some restrictions - it's a shame, when something like Google Docs could easily be extended to do what I want, even integrating nicely with the rest of my submission system.

(Word itself could do all of that as well, apart from integrating nicely, if the restrictions were more flexible; perhaps I could do something with macros...)