Monday, April 12, 2010

Google recently blogged a video showing off new features in gdocs, and it looks like much of what has been missing, is now coming promptly to Google Docs :-D. They don't seem to have rolled out, at least to my level of access, but it's looking good on the tiny screen.

I really have no love remaining for local office suites: they tend to be big, slow, expensive or time consuming to compile. Web applications can be made to work just as well, and with considerably less groaning involved. So, it is fair to say that I've really come to like web based solutions like gdocs, even if I'm not a big fan of all the hype in recent years about migrating to the 'cloud'. Why should I put up with the bother of Microsoft, Gnome, Open, or K office, when most of the crap I care about, can be done on Google for almost zero maintenance?

When I have a document to get sorted out, I have the habit of selecting whatever method works best for the task at hand. Most often that is something I can hack at in vim, and then generate a suitable output for sharing. I don't send Word files, I normally send PDF files and sources. That is a much better way of doing it, when you want someone to view the file, not edit it and send it back. When I expect someone else to be editing the document, I tend to employ gdocs over an office suite, because of Google's sharing and collaborative features. Playing pass the pumpkin document is a morons errand compared to gdocs, and I reckon for some folks the publishing parts are handy. My interest is more so in the collab' features, because that was the big incentive that brought me to gdocs in the first place. Now that those features are growing again, you can bet I'll be putting them to use.

For me, Google Documents is just a means to an end: get the document done with minimal fuss. When I'm stuck dealing with people who wouldn't know a DocBook from a troff, let along what the heck version control means... it makes life a lot easier without complicating MINE! The level of control over HTML/CSS offered with the word processor, even makes it easier for me to integrate gdocs into my work flow when more power is required; I've yammered about that before. If anyone has ever had to feed Word files through pre or post processing phases, uh, you will enjoy living with Googles method lol. Since I rarely need to do rocket science with spreadsheets, I've never had much to complain about their spreadsheet app. Recently I've used gdocs word processor and spreadsheet on numerous projects, including dependency tracking for our EPI Core Services package, and it works darn good for what we need to do.

My only big gripe over the years has been the lack of Google Talk integration with gdocs, compared to GMail. In our spare time efforts with EPI, GTalk/XMPP actually became our norm for development meetings, after efforts to deal with AOL and Microsoft's solutions, only added extra interoperability problems. At least I can say 'gdocs' and people will usually know what I mean, if they know about Google Documents in the first place lol.

The video Google posted, demonstrates a much better way of dealing with the multiple editors problem then what's been classic with gdocs. I can still remember a time when it was virtually impossible for two people to edit the same file simultaneously, haha. I am very intently interested in seeing these changes rolled out, and definitely have to give the drawing tool a go. Normally I use Dia for any diagramatical needs, and the GIMP for heavy lifting; if Google's drawing app can get the job done, it really would save me the effort; we'll have to play and see, hehehe.

Now that gdocs can handle documents, presentations, spreadsheets, forms, and drawings. I reckon fwiw, it is almost a fully functional office suite. I can't say that I've used the presentations app, since I'm naturally against death by power point, but it would be my first stop if I needed to put something like that together.

Spending huge amounts of time draped over MS Word 2k2, taught me the value of using decent tools; where as learning how to use better tools, is what taught me the value of leverage software in general ^_^. Most of the time, I employ LaTeX or DocBook for large projects (the kind you don't want to see the inkjet taxes on), but I will occasionally use gdocs for simpler documents of my own. When it comes to word processors, Google Docs is no worse then the rest, and in  my experience has improved more over the past few years, then Microsoft and Suns/Oracles solution. The ease of sharing and editing the doc with others, has made it one of the few officewares that I actually enjoy, except for the lack of vi and emacs keystrokes of course \o/.

I've no real brand loyalty to Google, even though their software makes up a large part of routine. Sometimes it's simply the best glove available :-/. For as often as this software has helped me out, I'm happy to use it when it fits.

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