Tag Archives | Google Docs

Google’s Web Clipboard

Google has given its Docs Web-based suite a much-improved clipboard that lets you retain formatting when you cut and paste information between the apps. Very cool–and a reminder of just how far Web apps have to go before they get even all the features that everyone deemed essential in desktop software a couple of decades ago.

Wouldn’t it be cool if Google made its clipboard an open standard and invited Web-productivity competitors such as Zoho and SlideRocket and…even Microsoft…to support it, too?


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A Little Closer to Gdrive: Google Docs Stores Files of All Sorts

People have been talking about Gdrive–a theoretical online storage service from Google–for eons. It still isn’t here, but Google keeps tippy-toeing towards offering the functionality we all assumed it would have. Back in November, the company started offering additional storage for Gmail and Picasa at dirt-cheap prices. And now it’s announcing that it’s letting users of its Google Docs online productivity suite store any sort of file in their Google Docs Web-based repository, not just ones that work with the service’s applications. That makes Google Docs into a virtual hard drive/backup solution of sorts, for the first time ever. The new feature will be rolling out over the next few weeks.

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Will Google Docs Replace Word? Perhaps, but Not Today.

Google is predicting that its online office suite, Google Docs, will soon give people the option to “get rid of” Microsoft Office. With Google Docs in a less than robust state, that pronouncement sounds more like vendor bravado than prophecy.

Google’s entire premise is based on vaporware: It is promising to update Google Docs within the next year so that it will meet “the vast majority’s needs,” Dave Girouard, president of Google’s enterprise division told ZDNet Asia in an interview published on Friday.

Google is planning “thirty to fifty” updates that will make Docs more capable and on par with Google Mail and Calendar, Girouard said. He believes that businesses do not use Google Docs because it has not reached the same level of maturity as those products.

If Microsoft made a similar pronouncement, it would have been immediately dismissed as peddling vaporware. Even if Google gets it right, there is no guarantee that enterprises will make the switch for a multitude of reasons.

I believe that Girouard is overreaching with his marketing message. Organizations have standardized on Word, and have processes built around it. Switching would require training, and replacing software that is built around it.

Issues such as electronic discovery and staying compliant with privacy laws also come to mind. Who will own the data, and where will it reside? Will developers be content with the APIs that Google provides, and will they extend its functionality to be more business-friendly? Microsoft is years ahead building out the Office ecosystem.

Moreover, there are very good free and open source alternatives to Word that exist today–not at some nebulous date next year. Yet, Office still remains dominant, and Microsoft is also not resting on its laurels: Office 2010 beta 2 includes some Web services, and it has hosting partners.

Girouard made another point that begs more thoughtful analysis. “…I don’t think Office will entirely disappear, Instead, Microsoft’s offering will become a specialized offering for office workers who need its additional functions, akin to Adobe Photoshop, which is targeted at skilled workers,” he told ZDNet.

Presently, most Google’s products are aimed at consumers. I am not familiar with any large enterprises that run them aside from universities that have cut deals with Google to administer their Web mail. Students have little influence over the purchase, and any complaints likely go unheeded. Businesses don’t play that way.

The time may come when most businesses do turn to Web services for productivity software. Salesforce.com has proven that mission-critical business applications can be run remotely reliably. However, the big shift will not happen next year, and Microsoft will be a part of it.


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Google Says Bye-Bye to Beta. Good!

Google Label“We’re often asked why so many Google applications seem to be perpetually in beta,” begins a post at the Official Google Blog. The post…doesn’t explain why Google loves to label so many things as beta for so long. But it does announce that the company’s taking the bushel of useful apps that make up Google Docs out of beta: Gmail, Google Calendar, Google Docs, and Google Talk are now officially ready for prime time. The beta labels are coming down today.

It’s easy to figure out why Google’s shedding the beta label: It’s devoting considerable energy to the for-pay version of Google Apps aimed at corporate users. For some of the IT managers who’ll decide to adopt (or avoid) Google Apps, the beta label might as well read this product is a rough draft that shouldn’t be rolled out to large numbers of people unless you want support headaches. In fact, it’s kind of amazing that Google left the beta identifier on a service it was selling to big business for so long.

Google isn’t doing away with its beta labels altogether–Knol, for instance, still sports one. But I wouldn’t object if the company used them sparingly, and only in the old-school sense: for products that have bugs and rough edges which the company intends to eliminate on a set schedule. That was a useful term, but it’s been almost completely devalued.

Once upon a time, Google’s betamania was a fun idiosyncrasy, and it felt like Google was letting the world in on stuff that was exclusive and exciting. But if just about everything is in perpetual public beta, the term has no value. And so many other sites have shamelessly borrowed Google’s approach to beta that it’s no longer entertaining. It’s pretty much redundant.

The Web, by definition, is a great big beta. Come to think of it, life itself is a great big beta…

Here’s more or less incontrovertible proof that Google’s beta label is meaningless: A new Google Labs feature lets you put it back on Gmail if you feel like it. How about other choices, like “Early Alpha” or “Service Pack 11?”

Gmail Label


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Google Docs Gets Drawing Tools: Not Bad, But Very Basic

googledocslogo2The permanent-beta culture at Google may be a source of amusement as much as information, but in the case of Google Docs, it’s probably something more: an admission that Google’s productivity suite is still missing some pretty basic tools. Once that Microsoft Office, say, has had forever. Little by little, though, Google is filling in Docs’ myriad holes. And to its credit, it generally waits to do so until it has something that works.

Last night, the company added drawing tools to Docs’ word processor, spreadsheet, and presentation app. They’re based on technology Google picked up from a company it acquired called Tonic Systems, and it’s not surprising that it took them this long to show up–the precision and interactivity required by graphics tools are among the hardest things to implement in a browser, at least if you try to do so without using Adobe’s Flash,

The tools you get are very basic: You can insert various canned shapes (very similar to the ones in Microsoft Office), fiddle with colors and outline widths, do simple lines and arrows, and change the order of objects. Rather than drawing directly on the page, you work in an editing window.

It’s enough to do extremely simple stuff, such as flow charts:

googledocsdraw

Or, if you’re ambitious, more elaborate drawings (but mine all look a little like digital Grandma Moses–CorelDraw this ain’t):

Google Docs Sketch

The list of features which these drawing tools lack is longer than the one of things it can do. There’s only one font, there’s no way to do gradations or other fancy fills, there’s no drop-shadow effect (although you can fake it), and lines don’t snap into place for convenient flowcharting. And unless I’m missing something, you can’t cut a graphic you’ve created in one Google Docs app and paste it into a different one.

But what’s there works pretty smoothly, and that’s something of an accomplishment. (Google Docs archrival Zoho still doesn’t have drawing tools in its word processor, although its presentation app sports them.) My hope is that Google’s figured out some of the challenging fundamentals of implementing drawing features, and will continue to beef ’em up until they’re at least vaguely competitive with the most important graphics tools in Office. (If you doubt that there’s still a yawning gap between the features in Google’s apps and those in Office, spend some time with Docs’ presentation tool, and then switch over to PowerPoint 2007; even with the new drawing tools, I wouldn’t build a slideshow in Google Docs unless I didn’t care if it looked like it was done in 1994.)

One of the many reasons I’m looking forward to the arrival of Microsoft’s upcoming online versions of the core Office apps is because they’ll serve as a reality check on Google’s progress to date. And drawing tools are one major area where Microsoft has a shot, at least, at delivering something meatier than what Google Docs has to offer.


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Operation Foxbook: More Fun With Web Apps

The experiment known–by me, anyhow–as Operation Foxbook is winding down. By tomorrow, I’ll have packed up the HP Mini-Note I’ve been using as a dedicated Firefox machine, and I’ll allow myself to use desktop applications instead of relying on Web apps whenever possible. Already, I’m weaning myself off of my Web-only regimen–I may allow myself access to Photoshop later tonight.

But I’m still learning things from this project, and need to catch up on sharing them with you. Some notes on the last few days:

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