Comparing Word Processors
The word processing component of Google Docs mimics the key features of Microsoft Word. The interface is very Word-like, with both pull-down menus and a toolbar with buttons for common formatting functions.
Google Docs lets you insert a variety of items into your documents, including pictures, web links, comments, footnotes, headers and footers, even tables of contents. You can create rudimentary tables, although table formatting is somewhat limited. Page layout is also limited; you can't create multi-column pages, for example. You do get a decent spell checker (but no grammar checker), along with rudimentary paragraph styles. Google Docs also lets you create new documents based on pre-designed templates, similar to those offered in Microsoft Word.
Of course, one of the most useful features of Google Docs is the capability to share a document with others—either for viewing or for collaborative editing. You can easily invite others to view or edit your documents in real time, and easily view a document's revision history.
On the downside, Google Docs simply isn't as robust as Microsoft Word. Word offers more formatting options, more sophisticated styles and templates, more flexibility in page layout, the ability to create mass mailings, and the ability to automate tasks via macros.
In addition, while the documents you create with Google Docs can be exported to Word format, not all formatting translates well. In my experience, I've found that opening a Google Docs document in Word requires a lot of reformatting to capture the feel of the original.
Bottom line, Google Docs is a good basic word processor that doesn't (yet) offer the advanced functionality of Microsoft Word. If your word processing needs are modest—or if you need to collaborate with others online—it's a viable alternative.