One of the first things I realized when I began looking at Google Docs was how deeply enmeshed I have been in Microsoft Word over the years. The technical differences, such as fewer font options with Google Docs, I had expected. The impact it had on how I use a word processing tool was a bit more surprising. My first surprise occurred when I was composing my very first paragraph. Whereas Microsoft Word immediately let me know that either my typing or spelling skills were somewhat lacking (I prefer to blame it on my typing) with all of the cute little red squiggly lines, Google Docs lets me pound away without a complaint. I rather quickly learned that a glance at my work to look for the tell tale colors illuminating my errors did not mean that I had finally managed to create a clean document on the first try. Fortunately, I decided to give their spell check a test run and was immediately presented with a multi colored document that seemed somehow more familiar.
As I continued to work on that first document I noticed a little message kept appearing on the top of the screen informing me that my document was being saved. At first, I thought that was a nice feature. Then it occurred to me that I had just uncovered another little habit I would need to break. When creating a document, especially if the process takes multiple days, I tend to try ideas out in the document. Sometimes those ideas work out pretty well (at least I like to think so), but every now and then I’ll read what I just wrote and decide I just need to start over. Rather than trying to figure out what I changed and what I added I simply close the document and don’t save the changes. This isn’t an option as I’m working in the cloud. Whether my last few thoughts were good, bad or indifferent, Google Docs is saving them all for me. When I’ve completed my document, I’ll need to manually remove the ones that drifted astray.
My next little surprise came when I asked a few colleagues to review my masterpiece. A couple of days after sharing the document, I took a look to see what types of comments had been added. Once again, my Microsoft Word habits betrayed my efforts. Accustomed to scanning down the right side of the document looking for comments from my peers I was pleasantly surprised to find none. A second glance at the document revived my belief that there’s always room for improvement in my efforts – I found the comments that had been so generously added to my work.This is how a comment appears in Google Docs:firstname.lastname@example.org 2/4/10 1:56 PM. Google Docs inserts the comment directly in the line where you choose to insert it – not boldly off to the side where it is so easily found. After working with Google Docs for awhile and reviewing more and more documents, I’ve gotten pretty good at finding the comments within the text of the document, but it was definitely a learning curve.
I would not consider any of these little quirks reason enough to not use Google Docs. However, they do provide a bit of a warning. Before I’d decide to move a group of folks who are accustomed to working with MS Word to Google Docs I’d take some time to do some demos of the differences, highlight the technical changes (I’ll provide more detail on some of these in subsequent posts) and prep my help desk for all of the calls they’ll be receiving simply because the new software behaves differently.
Is anyone in your organization using Google Docs? What do they think?