by Clifford Colby / June 01, 2018
The Google Docs collection of editors and services -- which includes Docs, Sheets, Slides, Forms, Keep, Drawings, and Drive storage -- is a free, easy-to-use, and unexpectedly rich collection of productivity tools.
They are free: As with Google's other consumer services -- including Gmail and Calendar -- the Google Docs productivity apps are free to use across any browser, including Google Chrome and Mozilla Firefox.
In the cloud: Your files are kept in Google's Drive cloud storage. For free, you get 15GB of storage for Gmail and Google Photos files and anything you store in your drive, such as videos, images, and PDFs. All changes are automatically saved to the cloud.
Some files don't count toward your storage limit, however. Documents you create in Docs, Sheets, and Slides don't use up space, and photos you store using Google Photos' High Quality setting also get a free ride.
If you do bump up against the free cap, you can buy 100GB of space for $19.99 per year or 1TB for $99.99 per year. And if you really need room to breathe, pay $199.99 a month for 20TB of cloud storage.
By default, you need to be connected to Google's cloud service to work on your files, but you can install a Google Docs Chrome extension to turn on offline access to your files when you're not connected. You can also turn on the ability to create, edit, and open your files while offline in settings for each app. You need to be using the Chrome browser to work with your files offline.
Easy to collaborate with others: You can share a text, spreadsheet, or presentation document by tapping the Share button in the upper-right corner and then adding people by name or by email address. If it's easier, you can create a shareable link instead to send to colleagues. You can control whether collaborators can edit, comment, or just view the file and if they can download, print, or copy the document. You can also control whether collaborators can share the file themselves with others.
Collaborators can add comments to a file and address comments made by others. You can view collaborator edits in real time and chat with others working on a file in a message window.
By selecting File > Version history, you can see earlier versions of the file, and view changes with timestamps. You can also restore an earlier version if you want to revert edits.
Word processing: The Google Docs word-processor app lets you create, edit, and format text documents. Docs gives you control over text styles and paragraph formatting and helps you create bulleted and numbered lists and text columns. You can also set your own default styles for titles, subtitles, and headings. To quickly re-apply styles, Docs offers a Paint Format tool to copy formatting between text. Docs lets you hyperlink text, add images you have in Drive or Google Photos, and insert charts and tables you build in Docs or import from Slides. You can view an outline of your document, run a spell checker, and see word and character count.
Spreadsheets: With the Google Sheets app, you can create, edit, and format spreadsheets and handle common spreadsheets tasks. For example, you can build charts and graphs, use built-in formulas, and perform calculations using functions. Sheets comes with a handy collection of chart types, and through its Explore tool, the app can suggest chart types and analysis for your data. The Explore tool can suggest pivot tables to help you make sense of data sets and surface patterns. You can also record macros and through Google Apps Script write scripts to perform custom functions and pull in data from other Google services.
Slides: Slides is Google's presentation app. You can build slides, create transitions, work with text and shapes, and create tables and charts that you've built in Sheets. You can add images and animations and embed video. As a bonus, you can drive your presentation from your phone, presenting via Chromecast to a monitor or through a Google Hangouts video chat. Like other slideshow apps, Slides lets you create speaker notes and present slides in a presenter's view that lets you view your notes, see upcoming slides, and keep track of time.
Companion apps: Google offers a set of related productivity apps to support Docs, Sheets, and Slides: Keep, an easy and quick app for taking notes, creating lists, making drawings and voice recordings, and storing images; Drawings, a diagramming tool that comes with flowchart symbols and other shapes to help you create and edit drawings, flowcharts, and diagrams; and Forms, for creating surveys and quizzes with responses collected in Sheets.
Compatible with Office files: You can import Microsoft Office files -- including Excel data sets -- and convert to Google Docs files. With Office Compatibility Mode (OCM), you can work on Office files in their native formats, and you can save and export files in an Office format.
Templates: Google offers more than 100 text, spreadsheet, and presentation templates -- both Google-created and from third parties -- to give your documents a polished look. Templates range from resumes and work proposals to annual budgets, schedules, and to-do lists.
Add-ons: Through third-party add-ons, you can extend the functionality of Docs, Sheets, and Forms. Add-ons range from charting tools to bibliography creators for business and education uses. You can also add custom items, such as menus and dialogs to Docs, Sheets, and Forms with Google's Apps Script.
A workplace suite: If you are looking for a business version of the apps, Google has G Suite, which includes Gmail, Docs, Drive, and Calendar tuned for the workplace. The suite comes with business-level security and administration tools and the Hangouts Meet app to hold video calls with as many as 25 people inside and outside your organization. Pricing starts at $5 per person.
Lean on premium features: The Google Docs apps look to follow the 80/20 principle, where 80 percent of users take advantage of 20 percent of an app's features. Google's consumer apps lack some high-end capabilities you can find in a paid productivity suite like Microsoft Office. So if you are in the 20 percent who needs the industrial-strength capabilities, Google's tools may not meet your needs.
Privacy concerns: Google relies in part on a user's settings and web-browsing history to serve ads. While you have control over what you share with Google through your user settings, the company monetizes your Google-related activities.
Unless you are looking to do some heavy lifting with your productivity apps, Google's free and collaborative Docs, Sheets, and Slides apps and Drive cloud storage should be more than up to the task.