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Google Docs gets limited PDF support

Google hasn't yet built in search or zoom functionality, but users of its online office suite can upload, view, and transfer files in the standardized Portable Document Format.

Google Docs, the online office suite from the search giant, now has some limited but still useful support for PDF files.

PDF files now show in Google Docs' interface.
PDF files now show in Google Docs' interface.

People using the service now can upload and view documents encoded with the widely used and now standardized Portable Document Format initially created by Adobe Systems. People also can transfer PDFs stored on the Web. (Look below for a screenshot showing the two-pane PDF view.)

The move, announced on the Google Docs blog Friday, isn't much of a surprise. In addition to the fact that it makes eminent sense, close observers already had begun seeing signs that hinted at imminent Google Docs PDF support.

Google Docs, still in beta testing, competes with Microsoft Office but is relatively primitive when it comes to feature support.

However, because it's Web-based, Google can add new features relatively easily; users simply use the Web site, and they appear, one of the chief advantages of the software-as-a-service approach. And given that Google's three big areas of focus are search, ads, and applications, expect lots of resources to be poured into this area.

I found the PDF support snappy and very handy. However, my quick test of the service showed some rough spots with the PDF support.

For example, I couldn't find a way to zoom in or out, which definitely is essential, even on ordinary 1024x768-pixel screens. Being able to hide the minidocument page view pane on the right, which lets you scroll quickly through the document, might help.

Search also doesn't scour the contents of PDF files, a feature whose significance Google, of all companies, presumably understands.

Editing has a long way to go. You can't type text in a PDF, though you can export other Google Docs files to PDF. And copying uses a peculiar box to select text, not the familiar cursor with highlighted words.

You'd better have a screen at least 1024 pixels wide. Most of us with PCs these days do, of course, but what about support for mobile devices?

I also didn't like one user interface moment: the site offered a very unhelpful error page when I tried to upload a file exceeding the 10MB size limit.

Overall, though this is a big step in the right direction.

An example of Google Docs showing a PDF file.
An example of Google Docs showing a PDF file.