Thursday, April 22, 2010

Google Docs vs MS Docs. Wondering why Google Docs still sucks?

Presumably one of the most important initiatives at Google outside of search has got to be Google Docs. Having a platform for people to create and edit documents on the web has to have been seen as a critical feature. Why then, has Google Docs sucked so badly for so long? It really has borne no resemblance to a real word processor since inception. Yes, its had sharing, its lone competitive advantage. And yes that sharing has recently gotten better with its live multi-person editing that almost no one needs. But fundamentally Google Docs just sucks.

Where are style sheets, outline structure, type handling, etc. Yes they have supposedly added a bunch of stuff with a supposed new HTML5 based version. But it isn't live yet. At least not for me. And even what they announced, from what I remember, is not enough.

Yes, I am comparing Google Docs to Microsoft Word. But why not. That is what everyone else who uses Word or its similar competitor in Open Office does. It seems fair to me.

One of the often trotted out arguments about disruptive technologies is that they often start out looking like toys, but they serve some constituency really well, and they grow into something serious while no one is watching. As the argument goes, that is what is happening with Google Docs.

But with the launch of the new version of Facebook and Microsoft's near launch of its own "Docs" platform, I think its over for Google Docs. Presumably Microsoft Docs, tied into Facebook's social network, will have great sharing. And clearly Microsoft will have better editing features.

Google Docs started out as a toy and never graduated. And in taking so long to make it good, they have apparently given Microsoft all of the time it needed to catch up to Google, and it would seem, to lap it. The idea, as it has been explained, has been that Google Docs would be sold into the corporate environment. But at this point that seems like a ludicrous notion. I guess Google could just give Docs away, and at least try to hurt Microsoft by applying price pressure. But Google's efforts with Docs seems like such a competitive joke that I am not even sure free will be enough to make even a mildly noticeable impact.

Lesson learned: You snooze you lose.


  1. I think you have it right.

    I have used Google Docs for some time, constantly expecting it to improve, and it just hasn't. Elementary actions such as copying and pasting text from other sources cause mayhem to break out. I've been using stylesheets since 1986: should I really have to stop now?

  2. The fact that Google Docs still has yet to implement a horizontal ruler in their word processor boggles my mind. The simple act of lining up text blocks is nearly impossible in GDocs' current form and that to me is inexcusable.

  3. First, Google's important initiatives are: advertisements, search, and then email. The docs system is near or around dead last. They only make money from docs if someone buys into Google Apps, and that's usually for the email.

    Second, I'm also wondering why Docs still sucks. More importantly I'm wondering why /docs is still around/. Instead we should have something that looks like Etherpad, Wave, Docs, and G-Mail.

  4. Have you guys followed this direction to try the new version of Google Docs?

    "To try them out, click “New version” at the top of any spreadsheet or go to the ‘Document Settings’ page and select ‘New version of Google documents.’"

    I know it aims to solve some of the issues raised in the article and the comments.

    One way or another I am working to move all my document editing off my local system so competition is always good.


  5. Google's goal is to get everyone on the web 24/7. It doesn't matter if it's Google Docs that does it or Microsoft Docs; either way, they win. It could be that their only purpose in creating Google Docs was to spur a response from Microsoft.

  6. Here's the thing you don't seem to realize. You think Google Docs sucks because you use all these fancy features in Microsoft Word, and you can't live without them.

    99% of Microsoft Word users never use any of that stuff. They don't know it exists, know how to use it, nothing. If you take it away, they won't notice. In fact, taking it away makes things easier for them because it makes the interface simpler.

    Google Docs has more features than what most people use already. If you think it sucks, it's not for you. But it is just fine for millions of others.

  7. I have no idea why anyone would share a Word document on Facebook. If it's worth reading by many people, then I will publish it on the web. If it is important to select group of people, then I will use my e-mail account to collaborate.

    As a student, I use Google Docs. Why? I can edit a report here on my laptop. Go into the computer lab, continue writing. If I need my friend's critique, I share it with them via e-mail. Am I really itching to share it with all my friends? No. I think you can apply this thought process to most of the documents we create on a Word processor.

    I haven't looked into Microsoft Docs. For my use (as a college student), a killer feature would be seamless integration with Microsoft Word. If I can edit on Microsoft Word in the computer lab, walk back to my dorm and pop it open in Microsoft Docs (with zero hassle), then they just might win me as a customer.

  8. I agree with Scott. Part of what I LIKE about Google Docs is that it does less.

    Of those 3 things you mentioned (style sheets, outline structure, type handling) I don't think I've ever used any of those in MS Word. Actually I'm not even sure what those mean because when you say outline I'm thinking bullet points and Docs has that. And when you say type handling I'm thinking fonts and Docs has that too. So you must mean something more advanced.

    There have been a few features I've missed from Spreadsheets that I use in Excel (auto filter is one that comes to mind).

    But it's simple user interface is one of it's best features in my opinion.

  9. I'm one of the product managers on Google Docs. Mostly I agree with you. Some of the features that you mentioned (ruler, outlines) we're basically impossible to do with the old editor. Which is why we started over with this new version (Ben's comment above is very accurate and shows how you can opt-in)

    It's definitely not at feature parity with Word yet, and may never be. But with the new editor we can support all the features that you mentioned, it's just a matter of prioritizing them.

  10. Jeffrey,

    Thanks for your comment. I didn't have the instructions for how to look at the new features, though I had seen a roundup/description of them. As of yet, the things that I personally care about aren't there, but really my personal feature desires are beside the point. I do hope that you guys continue to take this battle seriously, though I think it will be tough sledding. Good luck.

  11. It's a full-fledged word doc in your browser and you can access all your docs from ANYWHERE in the world (with internet access) by just logging on. It has math capabilities and image capabilities that are easy to use. It's FREE. Your points are valid, but

  12. I use Google Docs as an online notebook of sorts. It's very handy for that, and sure beats emailing Word Documents back and forth, or carting about notebooks that don't lend themselves to searching later.

    Because I'm mostly interested in the raw information in these notes, I belong to that 99% who don't give a shit that I can't make this information look 'pretty' (text is often 'pretty' to me based on the raw information it contains, but that's another subject for another day).

    So: Google Docs. Getting the job done for me. Not sucking. If Microsoft puts something out there that's compelling enough to make me switch, great, but for now having the info accessible regardless of where I am is what I'm mainly after.

  13. Many people make the comment that having your docs in the cloud is a powerful proposition. To an extent I agree. But having your docs in the cloud doesn't at all imply your Word processor needs to be in the cloud along with it. It seems to me that Google Docs tries to push both concepts at the same time. In an ideal world, my docs are available from everywhere and I can edit them using a word processor or spreadsheet editor that's less than common denominator if that's what I choose.

    I'm a power user, so features and richness are important to me. I certainly recognize however than minimalism is probably better for most folks. I believe that Microsoft Word is the "best" word processor, but it's infinite features do confuse my father. HOWEVER, if we push aside the argument of feature parity, there is still the issue of performance. A cloud-based solution will *never* perform as well as a local equivalent, even with the best Ajax tricks, just due to latency. And I'm not talking about unnoticeable performance differences like 12ms to perform an action vs 10ms. I'm talking about real-world, user-noticeable, productivity-killing lag when hitting keys. This performance issue is independent of network connection speed since WAN latency is a fact of nature. The fix here is to put more and more code client-side, at which point the app creeps from being cloud-based to local. Where the code executes is largely academic though since everywhere-availability of an app and where the processor cycles are churning are not mutually exclusive things.

  14. As a technical user, I like that Google Docs are stored as very clean HTML. I can modify stylesheets as much as I want via CSS. I write Greasemonkey scripts to do more heavy-weight changes to the document's DOM.

    Unless Microsoft Word's online offering generates significantly cleaner HTML than Word did, I really hope that Google Docs sticks around. Sometimes simpler is better.

  15. I'm confused. You're comparing a program you haven't tried to a program that hasn't been released and declaring the program that hasn't been released the winner?

    I agree Google Docs leaves a lot to be desired, but if anyone has been snoozing, it's Microsoft, hence the unreleased nature of their "Docs" platform.

  16. I use google multi user editing almost everyday...Google produces feature rich products..

  17. All google products are really generic and dum.

    Seems to me their culture isn't very good at producing useful things. Too much money, too many high IQ folks, no hunger free lunches, group think and overly team-oriented business processes. Yuk! Even when they give it away!

    We're dopping gmail as well. Notice how you can never directly communicate with any of these "really smart" highly-paid, selected ppl @ Goog!? BORING!

  18. Lots of bitter google haters. Apparently they have not tried the new version of Google docs.

  19. I'm no Google hater. I love a lot of what they do but sometimes they just get things so wrong. Take Gmail for example.

    I have a 'real' email account for work and friends but I use Gmail for my general purpose 'internet activity' account. This get a lot of email from a lot of pretty random sources. A lot of it is spam and a lot of it is semi spam (all those newsletters and promo ads you keep getting after you've signed up for something).

    Anyway, to keep this barrage in check, the easiest way to sort through the crap is to sort it by subject or sender and then block delete posts onmasse but Gmail does not let me sort and makes it pretty time consuming to block delete. I find the lack of sort in Gmail indefensible. Google (and it's fans) suggest keeping track of things by labelling and filtering my emails but I really can't be arsed to micromanage my email in such a way. They also suggest using search but this is useless when pruning as I'm trying to finding random stuff I DON'T want. The only reason I haven't junked Gmail altogether is that Thunderbird is a semi decent Gmail ready email client and can deal with Gmail emails in sensible ways.

    The cynic in me thinks that Google do not want you to delete any of your emails so makes any pruning deliberately difficult. More data on their server means more data to profile you.

    And don't get me started with the Users & Roles settings for Google Apps. What a dogs breakfast that is.

  20. I like Google Docs but it pales in comparison to Microsoft Word. For one thing the process of pasting anything more than 300 cells into a Google Docs takes longer than childbirth. I am forever staring at the "working..." yellow square.

  21. "It really has borne no resemblance to a real word processor since inception"

    Good! That's why Google Docs didn't suck. Now that they've gutted it and warped it around a paper format, it sucks big time. I don't print Google Docs, ever. Why would I? The whole point of "the cloud" is that I can view them from any device. I could care less how wide the text is on a piece of paper. Google Docs was great because it *wasn't* a desktop publishing suite. Now it's ruined by catering to morons.

  22. Google docs sure doesn't work for shared editing of a document that has numbered bullets. I need section 3.1.1 option. Oh well. Back to e-mailing the document around.

  23. Docs lack serious editing features, you can't edit sources of bibliography, can't do a mail merge, etc. It is OK for casual typing, but I can't use it to write an academic paper or do a pivot table analysis in spreadsheet.

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  25. As of April 2012, google docs hasn't really improved. It doesn't matter if I use PC or Mac, or Chrome or Firefox or Safari. Lease Line, ADSL or 3G broadband. It just doesn't cut it.

    Key frustrating issues:

    Copy and paste from Excel/To Excel. Try to export a Google spreadsheet to Excel and see what I mean. If I merge columns in a row, then copy and paste only can give me the value in one cell. Also, formula calculation is slow when compared to running the app locally and that frustrates me.

    The cursor keeps presenting itself at the wrong place so when you delete text, you almost always end up deleting the wrong letter...

    Like I said, I have tested it on Mac and Windows with three different browsers.


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