The Writely service, now renamed Google Docs & Spreadsheets seems to be a step in the direction of where computing seems to be headed: Less of the heavyweight desktop applications and more of web-based applications to do the tasks that one needs to do. This concept is really not up for debate – hundreds of desktop applications have migrated to the web as browsers have increased in capabilities.
Unfortunately, as much as I would like to see a true Word processor web application, I don’t think Google Docs is close to getting there. Here are some of my frustrations:
- Editing a document of any reasonable length is incredibly difficult. Obviously there is no Outlining function to easily navigate the document.
- I uploaded a document with a few tables. Copying and pasting the table cells and rows around, which is very easy in MS Word, is a real pain. Matter of fact, it doesn’t work at all in the expected way and instead I had to manually insert rows and copy data cell by cell.
- The copy and paste function asks about granting permission to Windows Clipboard and whatever I tried to do wouldn’t overwrite what was already there in the Clipboard from another application. An idea: Why isn’t the copied (or cut) data stored on & received back from the server through Ajax?
- When inserting new content, the document reverts back to its original formatting for the new content instead of the formatting that is used for the text before and after the new content. More work to format.
Even granting that people only use 20% (or less) of the functionality in Microsoft Word, Google Docs doesn’t meet the requirements of a reasonable word processor. It is clumsy, awkward and just doesn’t feel comfortable.
The only argument I can see in favor of Google Docs is that it perhaps has a different value proposition. Multiple users being able to edit the same document, the ability to see multiple revisions of the collaborated-upon document, and the web-based advantages may perhaps make for the lack of good editing capabilities.
In summary, at least in the short-term, I would see Google Docs as a complement to Microsoft Word rather than a substitute.