I have recently finished writing a novel and had the chance to compare and contrast Google Docs vs. Microsoft Word (2010, 2013 & 2016). I have decided that the future of office apps like word processing and spreadsheets is definitely online. However, there are drawbacks and limitations.
I loved using Google Docs for writing. It’s fast and easy. I can open it from anywhere and be on the latest version. No need to worry about saving or crashing or duplicates.
I did run up against the following limitations, though: Google Docs was only good for up to about 50,000 words. After that, it crashed repeatedly and I had to break the novel into four parts. I couldn’t figure out how to substitute an M dash for 2 hyphens, or an ellipsis for 3 periods. Also, the pagination options were limited. I couldn’t start page numbering on page 6, after the introduction and title pages. And printing took forever.
Microsoft Word is a mature technology with all the bells and whistles. But, as advanced a desktop program as it is for things like page numbering and substitutions, it felt like a dinosaur. I couldn’t load it on my subnotebook, so I had to use a desktop computer, which meant downloading a copy of the file from Google Drive, working on it, then uploading it back to Google Drive and deleting the copy from the hard drive.
To work on another computer, I had to repeat the procedure. It became tedious and I had to be very careful not to leave an old version on a computer that I was going to work on again, to avoid duplicate copies and to avoid working on an old copy that didn’t have the new changes. To download the file onto a laptop, copy to a flash drive then to a desktop, work, save, copy back to the flash drive and back to the laptop to upload to Google Drive was a harrowing experience and left too much room for error.
I could have loaded Google Drive sync on each computer I worked on, but the configuration required — not to mention the additional hoops with 2-step authentication and the subsequent hundreds of files now on some else’s computer — made that option a non starter.
For the record, I also tried Word Online, but it wouldn’t load my file since it was too large.
All this demonstrated the need for centralized document storage and for the need for online apps to mature. Documents have to be protected but accessible with automatic saving and version control built in. Although the online programs available today work for 80% of what is needed on a daily basis, there has to be an allowance for the remaining 20% — whether through plugins or a premium version of the service.
Services like Google Drive, that offer some online editing as well as desktop sync, are probably the best bet. Second best are programs like Dropbox or Sharefile that allow sharing and sync, but lack built-in editing.
In the meantime my novel, Less Than Perfect, should be out in a few months, so look for it!