Google Enhances Google Docs

Google released some pretty big news today — overhauls of two of its Google Docs components, Spreadsheets and Documents. Finally, I can stop thinking about what I’m going to get my boss to do when Etherpad goes blooey.

Let’s look at Docs. First of all you’re not going to see squat of these new features unless you click on Settings in the upper right part of the page and choose Documents Settings. Then check the box marked “Create new text documents using the latest version of the document editor.” Once you’ve done that you can play around. The first thing that you’ll really notice is ruler at the top of the page for margins and tab stops. I didn’t realize how much I’d missed this in Google Docs until it showed up. You also get real-time editing in Google Docs, something that’s been sorely missing. Like I said in the first paragraph, my boss loves Etherpad. He’ll like this even more, I think. In addition to the real-time editing there’s also sidebar chat as well.

The new announcement also said that the new Google Docs had improved image layouts. I uploaded an image that was much too large and had no luck resizing it. I resized it on my desktop and then uploaded it again, moving it around in the text. I will say that placing the image in the document was easy and fluid, but I missed the more precise wrap and flow settings that I can get with what I usually use (OpenOffice.)

Spreadsheets has some new features too. (To get these, open a spreadsheet. Click on “new version” in the upper right part of the editing area. You’ll have the option to switch back to the old version if you don’t like the new one.) Google noted “significant speed and performance improvements” — I worked with it some and didn’t see a lot of difference, but I’ve never had complaints. I noticed that there’s now a formula bar to show full cell content (THANK YOU; having to try to edit a long XML call directly in a cell was ANNOYING), auto-complete function, and drag and drop columns. Though I was really happy to hear about the formula bar I would have been happier to hear about Google upping the limits for calls to Web data on its spreadsheets.

Google has also released a new collaborative drawing editor, with some basic symbols and drawing tools for making flow charts and diagrams etc. It’s easy to use, and of course the collaborative function will come in handy, but after sites like Creately and Lovely Charts I miss the additional functionality of the full-featured sites.

Having the real-time collaboration in Google Docs is great, and I’m glad that formula editing in Google Spreadsheets has gotten so much easier, but I can’t get that excited about the drawing tool. There are several better ones online. Hey, maybe Google will buy Lovely Charts…