With Microsoft once again delaying the release of Office 2008 for Mac, you may be rethinking your reliance on the folks up in Redmond for your word processing needs. Apple recently released iWork ’08 which helps fill the gap, but there are other options available that provide powerful, easy to use word processing at a very reasonable price (Free!).
Google Docs is Google’s entry into the word processing space. Docs provides an impressive list of features, and considering that the application is web based and free, the features are even more amazing.
If you are familiar with Microsoft Word or any other word processing application on the market, you will feel very comfortable with Google Docs. Docs provides all of the features you would expect to see like undo, redo, copy, paste, bullets, alignment, etc. You also have a number of fonts and colors to choose from although I would like to see more font families added in the future.
Docs also provides the ability to insert images, hyper links (including links to other Google Docs), comments, tables, bookmarks, and separators (including page breaks). For each type of object, the interface provides enough options to control exactly how the objects appear in the document. For example, when you add an image to a document, Google Docs can resize the image based on the setting you choose, and you can also set the alignment and text wrapping. This is all done with a few clicks on the mouse.
One feature that users will find to be very helpful is the Revisions feature. Docs automatically saves your document as you type, and it provides a very easy way to go back and see and revert to each revision if the need arises. Docs also provides the ability to compare different revisions (think Track Changes in Word). This is a very powerful feature and one that I expect will be used very often.
The most impressive feature of Google Docs is its ability to share documents with other Google Docs users. When you share a document, you can make other users collaborators on the document. Those users can make changes to the document while you are making changes. This is extremely useful when working remotely with other people around the world. This also makes the Revisions feature even more important in case one of the collaborators accidentally deletes or changes a section of the document that shouldn’t have been changed.
In addition to adding collaborators to a document, you also add viewers. As the name implies, these users can only view the document and cannot make any changes. This makes it possible to share documents with others while maintaining full control over the content.
With more and more people working remotely, the sharing features in Google Docs makes it very easy to work with other team members with real time collaboration.
With Google Docs, it is very easy to publish your work so the world can see it in all of its glory. Users can choose to publish the document using Google’s servers. The document will receive its own web address (URL) that you can send to anyone that needs to see the document. Users can also choose to publish their documents to their own personal blog. Google Docs supports most of the major blogging services as well as several APIs for self hosted blogs.
As with other web-based applications, the one negative for Google Docs is that it cannot provide a seamless offline experience. Google has been working on a product called Google Gears which may be something that could make it possible for users to work in Google Docs while offline. If you would like to experiment with Google Gears, you can work with it while using Google Reader.
Without an offline mode, users must export their documents in order to work with them offline. Here, Google Docs provides many format options including HTML, RTF, Word, OpenOffice, PDF, and Text. Once you are back online, you can import the document back into Google Docs and continue to work with it through the web interface. Obviously this is not the smoothest user experience.
Google Docs is a very powerful word processing tool that has all of the features most users would need in a very easy to use web based interface. With its collaboration functionality, it is way ahead of most of its higher priced competitors. As long as you maintain a connection to the Internet, Google Docs provides a more than adequate replacement to Microsoft Word for Mac. If you’ve had enough of Microsoft’s word processing behemoth, I recommend that you give Google Docs a try.