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Google Docs

Last year, Google introduced Google Docs, which is a free, web-based office suite that includes word processor and spreadsheet tools. Google Docs is a free service that can be used by anyone with a Google/Gmail account. Files are created and stored on Google’s servers, and all editing is done through a web-based interface. The service also enables you to upload existing files from your computer for online editing (several formats are supported).

Files can be downloaded in a variety of formats (including Office and the open source OpenOffice file types, as well as PDF) and they can be shared with anyone who has a Google account. Files can also be published online so that anyone can view them and can be published to blogs. Google Docs also offers multiuser collaboration and a revision history feature for all documents, which can be helpful for backtracking to previously saved versions of a document or identifying who has made changes.

The Google Docs word processing tool is fairly basic. It includes a very limited number of fonts and although it provides a variety of common text-formatting options, it is definitely not as extensive as Word or other word processing tools.

By contrast, the spreadsheet tool is surprisingly full-featured for a web-based application. It provides a solid set of functions and includes the capability to generate charts. It also offers an auto-save feature (a big plus for a web-based tool with which you might be disconnected while working). As powerful as it is, however, it does lack many of the advanced features included with Excel or other fully featured spreadsheet applications.

Google Docs is a great product for sharing or collaborating without needing to email files back and forth. Its Office compatibility adds to usefulness as a collaborative tool. Also on the plus side is that documents are stored on Google’s servers, negating worries about backups or data loss on your computer.

The downside is that you can’t access/edit your documents if you don’t have Internet connectivity (or if Google experiences a failure or outage). There is also a potential privacy concern in addition to the fact that the tools are somewhat limited by comparison to a traditional office suite.

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