Yes I am reviewing another Google service; I have recently been doing some work with Google Docs for a client and have found some interesting issues and solutions.

I guess I should start by explaining the Google Docs platform.

Google Docs is an online document service, where you can create, upload, download and share various types of documents, spreadsheets, web forms, presentations and images. The supported file formats are:

  • ODT (Open Office Document)
  • PDF (Portable Document Format)
  • RTF (Rich Text Format)
  • Text
  • Word
  • HTML
  • CSV (Comma Separated Values)
  • Excel
  • PNG (Portable Network Graphics)
  • JPEG (Joint Photographic Experts Group)
  • SVG (Scalable Vector Graphic)

Once you have uploaded a file into your Google Docs account you can share the file with other users, or invite outside collaborators to download, view or edit the document.

The great thing about Google Docs is that you can create documents within the framework; you can also upload documents and use the system as an online storage facility.

The way, in which our client is using it, is to share important documents within a company, to allow multiple users (with varying access rights) the ability to view, download, upload and edit the document collection.

When used, as part of an organization Google Docs is very powerful, whilst there is a charge for the service when using as part of an organisation (free for personal use with 1GB of free storage), the benefits of the system massively outweigh the costs. Giving access to company documents 24/7 and allowing staff to work on documents from home without having to risk security issues by putting the documents on disk or risk of data corruption.

When you login to your account you are presented with the home view, which shows a summary of activity on all files that you have access to.

One of the major issues we came across as part of the project was the amount of time it was taking to upload documents via the standard Google interface. The work around for this was to connect the Google Docs area via webDAV. webDAV acts like an FTP connection and allows you to just drag and drop your files into your Google Docs user area, this increases the upload speed and cures the headache of having to upload files 1 by 1.

I found Cyberduck an excellent client for connecting into Google Docs, as it comes with a pre defined connection into which you just need to enter your username and password, making the connection process as easy as physically possible.

Some issues I have come across during the process which are very difficult to get around are as follows:

 

File Organisation

Google Docs by default organises directories alphabetically, which may not sound like a huge issue, but the fact that I can‘t drag and drop my folders to create a file structure of my choosing seems a little redundant.

Let me clarify:
Say I upload 10 directories called a.1, a.2 etc . . ., each containing 5 files. Google Docs would show my 10 top level directories, which I can drag and drop into each other, and files within directories can be dragged into other directories, but I can’t drag the main directories into a different listing order, so a.1 and a.2 can not be rearranged to be a.2, a.1. Not that using a.1 and a.2 is a logical process anyone would follow, but you get my point.

It does however have a set of pre programmed “Sort by’s”: Last Modified, Last Opened By Me, Title, Storage Used (why this isn’t just called file size is beyond me) and Priority.

 

Organisation Control

By organisation I mean company, for example I would have thought that since our Google Docs account is an organisation account, where users must be part of our organisation to even have a chance to access our files, there is no way for the master account holder to control the default settings for the sub users. The default login location is the home view, if I want the default login location to be just the “Collections Shared With Me” folder structure instead of the home view with file updates the home view much like your login area on facebook, display a list of all updates to any file or directory to which you have access) I should be able to do this for everyone, however there is no solution to this.

The best Google have come up with is the functionality to not display updates to this file in home, the galling thing about this function is that it is a user by user defined attribute, so I would have to log in as every user and set their account to not display updates to files (on a file by file basis) and even then once you clear down your cookies, refresh your cache or log out and log back in, it forgets this setting anyway.

Another caveat to this is when a new file is created it will begin to appear in the home view because the file never existed to be told not to appear, there should be some master control.

Our client wanted to have all members login and be directed straight to the “Collections Shared With Me” section of their account, the workaround for this is: certain links within Google Docs are # defined, meaning I can link a client straight to docs.google.com/a/account-domain/#collections-shared-with-me (by physically providing them with the link, i am not allowed as previously mentioned to change any default action settings for any users), and take them straight into the collections shared with me view (or force them to login and take them directly to the view if not already logged into their Google account).

 

Cool Features

Document translation, from within the Document editor you can translate a whole document into a plethora of different languages, which is exceptionally useful.

Revisions history (Version control), when in any document you can select “See revision history” and a log of all revisions are listed, any of which you can revert back to at any time.

Trash can, once a document has been trashed, much like on a PC, it stays in the trash until removed by the user, making it possible that a document can be recovered from the trash back to its original file location.

Forms, the forms functionality allows you to create a form (which can be loaded into an iframe) and all submissions are saved into the form data, to review submissions, edit the form and click on View Submission data.

 

Common reported issues

Images with dimensions larger than 2000pixels can not be uploaded.

Spreadsheets can only be edited one at a time, if two windows are open and you are making changes to either document, the changes are not saved.

 

Summary

On the whole I would say as is Google Docs is a massively useful piece of software that anyone would be comfortable using, even if it may require an hour or so messing around to understand how everything fits together. Whilst limited in organisation control (which I hope upon hope they look into) these are not major issues and do not impact on the day to day use of the system.

I feel I have been fairly critical of Google for some of their more recent developments, like Google Music (Google Music Vs BBM Music – blog) and Google Wallet (Google Wallet – The Virtual Credit Card); I will give credit to them for this piece of software as I feel it is the 3rd most useful product that have come up with, the Google Search Engine and Google Analytics being the top 2 (in that order).

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