Google Docs: minor upgrade, great product

Google Docs is not a glamourous product, upgrades aren’t launched at conferences, new feature rumors aren’t widely circulated, and the twittersphere doesn’t pounce on version changes. Yet, as a blogger, a tiny startup, and even as a PTA volunteer, I need Docs on a daily basis and I’m glad that Google is constantly adding features and making Docs better.

New Google Docs layout

New Google Docs layout

I got a Docs upgrade today, though I couldn’t find any official announcement, I did notice a few new features. A new layout with folders now placed in a much easier to access location, above the file list, and a few UI upgrades. Drag and drop is intuitive; move is a thing of beauty. Also, as in every product it makes, Google search works great, fast and efficient. In Docs’ case, it seems that Google had used it as an excuse for a flat file structure. The new focus on files in the layout gives users both options now.

The point of Google Docs, though, for the non-corporate user, is one of simplicity and access, where access means that the documents are are accessible on all device types and by every authorized user. Auto-save and backup are an invisible part of both: the absolute latest version is accessible everywhere and by everyone who shares the doc. It’s not only about more features and additional formatting wizardry. It’s about portability and sharing. Google realized early on that many of the features in Office are unnecessary for non-power users.

That said, can it replace Microsoft Office? For me, it did a long time ago. In fact, once Drive was able to open and convert any Office document, I stopped needing Office. The one place I still need the strength and breadth of features that Microsoft offers over Google is in PowerPoint. That is the one document type where Microsoft has an advantage over Google, with more features that are actually useful (especially image manipulation.)

My point in writing this post is the product approach. Instead of competing with Microsoft on features, Google created a simpler product in one sense (formatting, macros) but more sophisticated in others (sharing, instantaneous backup.) Yet, the two products competed for the same users. Before Docs, everyone was an Office user. Google won them over not by imitating Microsoft, but by creating a product with a feature set no one knew they needed.

Oh, and did I mention that it’s free?

 

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