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The Final Verdict: Google Docs or Microsoft Office?

Before you commit to Google Docs, however, you need to ask the question: Is cloud computing right for your particular needs? The answer, of course, is that it all depends.

Web-based applications like Google Docs make more sense for some users than for others. In particular, the following types of users can probably benefit from switching to Google Docs:

  • Beginning users. If you're a newbie to word processing, spreadsheets, or presentations, there's no better place to start than with Google Docs. The slightly limited functionality of this web-based application actually works to the benefit of beginning users; you won't be overwhelmed by all the advanced options that clutter the Microsoft Office workspace. Plus, Google Docs is extremely easy to use; everything you need is right out in the open, not hidden beneath layers of menus and dialog boxes. I'll be honest with you—I wish I'd had an application like Google Docs 20 years ago, when I was learning how to use PC-based office programs. It's a lot easier to learn.
  • Casual users. Google Docs is also a good choice if you have modest computing needs. If all you're doing is writing memos and letters, crunching a small budget, or creating a simple presentation, Google Docs gets the job done with ease.
  • Anyone who wants access to their documents from multiple locations. If you work on the same data at work and at home (or on the road), you know what a hassle it is to carry your data around with you from computer to computer—and keep it synchronized. The web-based Google Docs suite solves this problem. Wherever you are (home, office, on the road), you're always accessing the same version of your document, stored in the cloud. There are no synchronization issues; you work on the same file wherever you go.
  • Anyone who needs to share their documents with others. Sometimes you need others to view what you're working on. Maybe you have a family budget that you and your spouse both need to see. Maybe you have a soccer team schedule that other parents need to view. Whatever the need, Google Docs lets you share your documents with anyone you like, over the Internet.
  • Anyone who needs to edit their documents in a collaborative environment. Sharing is one thing; collaborative editing is another. If you need multiple users to both access and edit data in a document, Google Docs lets you do things that are impossible in Microsoft Office. For example, I know of one entrepreneur who adopted Google Docs for his small telemarketing company. He has five employees making calls at the same time, all from their homes. He has all five employees work from the same document; they not only access the same call data, they also enter their results into the document—live, via the Internet.

All that said, Google Docs isn't for everyone. So who shouldn't use this web-based application?

  • Power users. If you've created your own custom documents or templates in Microsoft Office, especially those with fancy macros and the like, Google Docs is not for you. Put simply, Google Docs lacks Office's most advanced features and simply won't get the job done.
  • Anyone who wants to create sophisticated printouts. At present, Google Docs lacks some of the more sophisticated formatting options that some Microsoft Office users take for granted. If you need fancy printouts, Google Docs will probably disappoint.
  • Anyone working on sensitive documents. Google Docs is not a good tool if your company has a lot of trade secrets it wants to protect. In fact, some organizations may bar their employees from working on documents that don't reside on their own secured servers, which rules out a web-based application entirely.

So, if you're a beginning or casual user who doesn't need fancy printouts, or if you need to share your documents or collaborate online with other users, Google Docs is worth checking out.

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