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Head in the cloud: Two years with Google Docs

Every story of mine you've read on CNET UK has been written with Google Docs. I've used Google's editor almost exclusively, and I thought it was time I explained why, and how it has worked out.

Every story of mine you've read on CNET UK has been written with the online word processor, Google Docs. Since 13 November 2006, I've used Google's editor almost exclusively, and I thought it was time I explained why, and how it has worked out for me.

What Google Docs is and why it worked for me

I use several computers regularly: A PC and a Mac at work, a MacBook on the go, and either my Mac or my PC at home. By using Google Docs, each of these machines has my past and present documents on it, fully searchable and downloadable in many doccument formats. I have no need to save my hundreds upon hundreds of documents across multiple locations in order to always have access to them, and for me that's a Rosie O'Donnel-sized bonus.

My other reason for preferring Google Docs over a desktop alternative is about simplicity. It's not that Google Docs is overly basic, but rather that my documents are -- I write text. That's it. No tables, no inserted images, no extensive formatting. This is all handled when we add HTML to format articles before publishing. Realistically, I'm using the service as a glorified online notepad.

But it's a notepad with an ass-load of bonus features: auto-saving, collaborative working options, archived revision history, real-time spell checking, word, character and paragraph counts. Plus, if I ever really need them, I've got control of more advanced word processing options such as footer and header editing, tables, superscript and subscript, page breaks and so on. But they're sort of the Lycos.com of the editing world -- they never get used.

Problems to be aware of

Google Docs is essentially a WYSIWYG (What You See Is What You Get) HTML editor. In the back-end, styles, formatting, layout and content is all marked up in HTML. This usually causes no problems. But, occasionally, extensive formatting or pasting of formatted text, necessitates you either clear all formatting of a certain word or sentence, or go into the HTML and remove the problematic code piece by piece.

And of course the biggie: no Internet, no free porn. And almost as problematic: no documents, unless you've got Google Gears installed. You're also limited to storing a maximum of 5,000 documents up to 500KB in size, with 2MB allowed per embedded image.

The bottom line

For me, as someone who writes a huge number of plain text documents on a number of computers, Google Docs is invaluable. I can start writing an article in Berlin, finish it when I get home, then access the finished article at the office for publishing -- all on different machines.

The only thing it won't replace my desktop suites for is designing formal documents, where layout and design is critical. But for everything else it's cloud computing as it's meant to be, and like my other favourite drug, I couldn't live without it.