Macspiration 62
Google’s Online Office Options 

For years the standard in word processing and spreadsheet programs has been a program housed on your computer’s hard drive. You run the program off the computer, and save everything on your computer or an external device. Recently, online applications have started popping up and they are starting to become a nice, viable, and free option.

At my school we have started to use Google’s line of applications (the word processor was formerly Writely), and the staff uses the spreadsheet application. The greatest feature is the ability for multiple people to edit the same document or calendar at the same time (or a different time) from anywhere with internet access. The documents are then stored on Google’s servers. Another fantastic feature in Google Docs is the ability to revert back to an older version of the document. If someone totally messes up the document beyond repair, you can choose a version from the past to revert too. This is very similar to what Apple’s Time Machine should be like in Leopard.

As I have been using Google’s online word processor more and more, I have found several speed bumps to troubleshoot. This Macspiration will talk about those speed bumps, and how I solved them, to help those that might encounter the same problem in the future. Of course, you don’t have to be on a Mac to use these applications. They are cross-platform. However, some of these tips will be Mac specific.

1. If you are on a Mac, Safari is not supported. You will need Firefox, Camino, or another browser. Speaking of Firefox, Firefox 2.0 will cause a constant error window to drop. The error doesn’t seem to cause a problem. I say “OK” and continue working.

2. You cannot cut and paste an image into a document. Actually, you can, but it will cause major formatting issues when printing and exporting. You must upload an image using the “Insert-Image” feature. If you export a document and the images are not appearing, it is possibly due to the image not being uploaded.

3. Printing can be tricky. If you use the “Print” command from the browser’s file menu you will only get one page of your document. Each document has its own “Print” link on the top right of a page for printing. That is what you want to use for printing. However, we found that this can cause some pages to be chopped at the right margin. To correct this, exporting the document into PDF or Word format works fine.

4. This is more of a caution then a tip. When you share a document with others make sure you fill in the correct “Collaborate” field. You can have other edit a document or they can only view a document. Be aware that if they are only viewing a document, they can make changes to their own version by exporting the document into Word format.

5. Page Breaks are tricky. If you need page breaks, your best bet is to export the document into Word and insert page breaks there. You can insert them through the application, but there is no ruler feature to let you know when you are at the end of an 11″ long page. I also ran into difficulty deleting page breaks. To delete a page break, I had to select the page break from the line before or after the break, and continue selecting until I got to the line before or after the page break (depending on the original starting point).

6. One strange issue we found was that printing tables can produce different results on different computers and/or printers. One computer and printer combination would not print the table borders, while another would. Once we exported the document into PDF or Word, the tables printed fine on that same computer and printer.

I’m sure there will be other speed bumps in the future, and you will probably hit others as well.

Google Docs is not the only online word processing option out there. There is also ThinkFree (, Zoho Writer (, gOffice ( and others. I use Google Docs because I was a Writely user before Google bought the company.

I don’t use online word processing for everything. In fact, I use Pages for 99% of the word processing I do. However, I do use it for documents I want to start typing away from home. Instead of having to email myself a file, I login into my account and the document is right there.

Are online applications ready to overthrow their hard drive based counterparts? Not yet. However, they are viable option for certain tasks and will be getting better and better.

Try one out, you might get hooked.


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