Last month, Microsoft released updated versions of Office Web apps for SkyDrive and Outlook.com.
My company has been a longtime user of Google Docs, tapping many components including the word processor, spreadsheet, and presentation tools so that employees can work collaboratively on documents including contracts, invoices, and budgets.
Not only does it save us money in terms of Microsoft Office licenses, but also Google Docs has some built-in functionality -- such as online collaboration, accessibility from mobile devices, and PDF exports -- that Office doesn't.
Nothing stays the same in technology, and it's always wise to review new solutions. So, today, I'm trying out what Microsoft is offering. After all, my organization could benefit from the developer's latest cloud-based software.
I prefer the Google Docs interface. Maybe it's because I'm more used to it. But it's also a lot less cluttered. The online version of Word, for example, has the same weird "ribbon" interface, the one I hate, in the new versions of Microsoft Office.
Google Docs' biggest limitation used to be its choice of fonts. That's changed; today, there are about 16 default fonts, plus hundreds of others under the "Add fonts" option. Office Web Apps has about 60; that's still plenty to choose from, but Google's the clear winner here.
Another area where I've had problems with Google Docs in the past -- in fact, I still do -- is its lack of formatting tools. You can indent and center, and you can create heading styles, change font colors and sizes, add italics and bolds, and change spacing to some degree. The only thing Microsoft Word Web App has that Google Docs doesn't, from what I can tell, is the ability to change the size of line spacing.
Both have tables. Google, however, offers more controls for table widths, borders, vertical alignment, padding, and background colors. Google also has a tab ruler and an equation editor, search and replace, word count, tables of contents, headers and footers, and page numbering.
But the biggest difference is that Google Docs automatically saves your changes as you progress.
Microsoft Word Web App doesn't do this. You have to hit the disk icon in the top left of the screen to save. But when I went to save just now, it told me I had to reload the page. Fortunately, being a paranoid type, I had just hit CTRL-A, CTRL-C to make a quick copy to the clipboard of the article. I say fortunate, because reloading the page erased everything I had written so far.
Google Docs gained a big advantage here, especially as, when working online, you want everything to be saved as quickly as possible.
Back when I first started using Google Docs in 2007, I was nervous about doing any serious writing on the online service because I could potentially lose all my new work at any time. Today, I have the same -- apparently justified -- fear about using Microsoft Word Web App.
And speaking of saving -- one major way we use Google Docs in our company is to generate contracts and invoices. With Google Docs, not only can we have documents in PDF format, but we can automatically email them as attachments.
Primarily because of the save issue and the lack of PDF exports, I'd put the Microsoft Word Web App into the "needs more work" category.
When it comes to spreadsheets, it's a closer race. The Microsoft Excel Web App has automatic saving, plus all the traditional Excel formulas we know and love.
Google spreadsheets also have forms. You can easily create free, complex surveys and then process data right there in the spreadsheet. Microsoft Excel Web App showed me a grayed-out "New Survey" menu item, a sign this feature will be available soon.
Google Spreadsheets have been around for a while, however, and the amount of tasks you can do with them is astounding. I've created stock price reports with automatically updated market data, for example. And, just now, looking through the menus, I discovered you can write scripts -- macros, for you Microsoft folks -- or pick from hundreds of pre-made ones, such as one to do mail merges between Gmail messages and Google Doc spreadsheets.
So, for spreadsheets, I'd say it's a tie. If you want to use Excel formulas, you're better off with the Microsoft version. If you want PDF exports, online forms, Google scripts, and easy integration with your other Google-based tools, go with Google.
The Google Docs Website is mobile-aware, with a stripped-down interface. I can access -- and even edit -- all my documents, right from my iPhone. That's handy in an emergency. If someone else has the document pulled up on their screen, they'll see the edits, in real-time.
The mobile version of the SkyDrive site lets me look at documents, but not edit them, and the navigation's a little funky. When looking at a document, there's no link to click to get back to the main screen. According to Microsoft, there’s a tablet version of Web Apps available that does allow editing.
My recommendation? Microsoft Web Apps are a nice adjunct to Microsoft Office, but not a replacement. Google Docs offers better functionality, especially in its word processor.
I finally had to finish this blog in Google Docs because I needed to know the word count. Then I emailed it to my editor right from Google Docs as a Microsoft Word attachment.
Based on my experience, looks as though my organization will stay with Google Docs. How about yours?
— Maria Korolov is president of Trombly International, an editorial services company that provides coverage of emerging technologies and markets. She has been a journalist for more than 20 years.