Google Documents LogoGoogle documents is a free Web-based word processor, spreadsheet, presentation, form and data storage service offered by Google.  There is also a paid version, Google Premier, which can work out cheaper than using Microsoft products.

Why Would a Business use Google Documents?
Apart from the obvious advantage of being free, the main difference between Google Documents and other applications (Microsoft, Open Office, etc) is that it is web based and supports collaboration.  Using Microsoft Office, if you wanted to work on a spreadsheet with a colleague or partner who is in a separate office, you would need to make a change and then email the document.  Using Google Documents you can both see the spreadsheet using the internet (via computer or mobile phone) and changes can be made and seen in real time.

How Easy Is It To Use?
The Google Documents interface is intuitive to use at a standard level of use,Google Spreadsheets Example but complex functionality needs additional effort.  In the word processor, tables, bullets, and text works in a similar way to other tools.  Images are less flexible.  The spreadsheet has a comprehensive set of functions and graphing tools but pivot tables are more complex.  The presentation tool can create basic slides but struggles with master slides, transitions, animations etc.  Add-ins are available to extend the more basic functionality – but these come at a cost in terms of time to learn.  In all of the applications, changes that are made are stored automatically and regularly.  It is useful to be able to view a history of changes to each document.

Who uses Google Documents?
There are a number of large and small businesses who have moved all their applications over to Google to reduce costs by using the Premier version that is only $50 per user, per year.  This offers more storage space per account, phone support, email retention. Google Apps now has 50 million users (1 million are paid users).  This is small compared to Microsoft, but the numbers are increasing.

Sounds great …. but?
To use Google documents extensively, users have to learn a new interface and will need to get used to sharing documents rather than emailing them.  Any old documents will need to be migrated – not as easy as it might sound.  There are potential security issues inherent with any documents that are stored on the internet rather than your own server, but Google is working to overcome these.  There are reports of the support being forum focused rather than being able to talk your problems through with somebody.  Google are working to improve their application software with the aim of competing directly with Microsoft.

Personally, I plan to stick with Microsoft products at the moment – they do have a cost associated with them, but their ease of use, extensive functionality and interoperability suits me at the moment.  However, whenever I want to collaborate with other people on a presentation, document or spreadsheet, I will use Google Documentss.  Collaboration tends to need fairly simple functionality and the advantage of being able to update in real time is enormous.  What do you think?