Microsoft Office 2010 is about to be released, and you aren't sure if you should upgrade or switch to Google Docs. But have you considered using the best features of both, together? Today we'll run down how to do just that.
Below we'll detail when Google Docs is a better tool for a task than Office (and vice versa), highlight methods for keeping your Office documents in sync with Google Docs online so you can enjoy both offline desktop access and anywhere online access, and more.
When Should You Use Google Docs vs Office?
If you're using both Google Docs and Microsoft Office, there's obviously a lot of overlap in features, so it's good to know the strengths of each application instead of only using one or the other.
The greatest strength of Google Docs is collaboration on documents, with real-time editing for multiple users at a time. Since Docs natively tracks revisions, you can see exactly what has changed, or revert back to an older version. If you have any document that needs to be continually updated, like a spreadsheet tracking a common goal, you should create that document in Google Docs. If you haven't already tried it out, you should give the new Drawings feature a try — it's a perfect way to keep flowcharts and diagrams in sync with everybody.
The problem with Google Docs is that it requires you to be online all the time, doesn't support many of the more advanced formatting and functions, doesn't support every Office file type yet, and doesn't allow uploading large Office files — a bit of a dealbreaker if you work in an office environment with really large spreadsheets or presentations.
The biggest reason to use Microsoft Office is, naturally, perfect offline support across the board. You can use every feature and formatting option that is available, work with large files, and it's the standard. The problem is a lack of great collaboration tools if you don't feel like setting up a SharePoint server, and the new Office Web features are still a long ways from matching Google Docs.
Using Microsoft Office + Google Docs
The simple solution is to use Microsoft Office to edit or create files that will be used primarily offline, and use Google Docs to share and edit files that require collaboration with others. For instance, if you had a spreadsheet tracking customer service requests, Google Docs is a perfect place for everybody to track changes online, but if you're working on a specification document, you can create it offline in Microsoft Office and only share it when you are done.
Use Offisync to Edit Google Docs in Microsoft Office
If you want to use Google Docs to collaborate and share documents with others, but prefer using Microsoft Office to actually put the documents together, your best solution, at the moment at least, is to use the OffiSync plug-in for Microsoft Office to open and save documents directly to Google Docs. At some point in the future, Google will be providing their own plug-in, Docverse, that will do much of the same, but for time being OffiSync works great.
What makes OffiSync great is that once you've opened a document from Google Docs, every save will automatically update back to the shared copy — it all just works without a lot of fuss. You can also share your document, assign permissions or even tap into Google search to add elements to the documents, and if you want to switch to using the online editor, you can do so easily from the Share menu. You can also manipulate folders directly from the open or save dialog, a very handy way to keep your projects organised.
The only real issue I've found with OffiSync is that you have to be online in order to open a document, so while you can open a document and then disconnect from the internet, if you were forced to reboot for some reason, you'd be out of luck until you could get online again. There's a simple workaround for this, of course — just save the document to a local folder, do your work, and then when you are done, you can use the Save As function from the OffiSync ribbon to save over top of the current document.
The free version of OffiSync does have some limitations — if you want to open or save documents to Google Sites folders, or access files in the native Office format, you will need to pay for the premium version. The premium version also comes with some real-time collaboration features, prompting you in Office anytime a file you are working on has changed, and allowing you to view or merge the changes. At $US12 a year or $US30 lifetime, it's not terribly expensive, so if those features are a deal-breaker for you, at least it won't break the bank.
Share Files in Native Office Format
Whenever you share a file on Google Docs, they will be converted to Google's format, and while you can choose to download the file in Microsoft Office format, sometimes formatting can be lost in the translation. If you want to share the documents with others but also make sure that the formatting is perfectly preserved, you can manually upload the files in Google Docs, and then uncheck the box for "Convert documents, presentations and spreadsheets" while you do the upload.
If you are using OffiSync premium, you can edit these files directly in Office, but if not, the limitation of this technique is that you can't edit the documents online, and everybody will have to share and re-upload files if anybody makes any changes. You're also stuck to a 1GB total space for all your documents for free Google Apps accounts.
The alternate choice is to use the Dropbox shared folders feature as a cheap "network" drive to share your files with other people. This solution is even better when you consider all of the other types of Office files you can share, like OneNote databases, Access databases, document templates or a collection of artwork to use in your documents. And since Dropbox has the same file revisioning feature that Google Docs does, you won't have to worry about losing a version of a file because another person overwrote it with a bad copy.
Upload Office Documents to Google Docs in Explorer
Rather than manually adding every single document to Google Docs, you can use the DocList Uploader application, which is actually a sample application designed to show off the features in Google's API, but it works quite well for getting your documents into Google Docs. Simply run the application, and once you've logged in with your Google account, you can drag and drop files that you want to upload.
You can then open the documents in Google Docs directly from the list, or you can add a "Send to Google Docs" to the context menu and leave the uploader application running in the system tray. You'll have to make sure it's logged in for it to work, but if you do a lot of work with Office files that you receive through email or otherwise, it might be worth it to keep the app running-otherwise it's an excellent way to import a big collection of documents quickly.
Sync Outlook with Google Calendar and Gmail (Optional)
We're focused on Google Docs today, but you can't talk about using Google Docs and Office without at least mentioning the fact that you can sync Outlook with Gmail and Google Calendar as well. You can setup Outlook to access Gmail using IMAP for the full sync experience, or using POP3 if you are primarily an Outlook user. Hooking up the calendar for offline access is even easier — just install Google Calendar Sync if you're an Outlook user, or check out our guide to how to sync any desktop calendar with Google Calendar.
Use Google Apps Add-ons for Better Collaboration
The Google Apps Marketplace gives you many useful applications that you can enable for your Google Apps domain, so you can add even more collaboration options to your Google Docs setup with productivity apps like GQueues, a list-oriented task manager that has full integration with Google Calendar and Google Apps. You can use GBridge to setup a VPN that shares files or remotely controls desktops using your Google Account. If you need a group project management tool, Manymoon covers this functionality well for free, or you can check out our top 10 Google Apps Marketplace apps for more useful tools that can be integrated into your Apps account.
What about you? Do you use both application suites? Share with your fellow readers in the comments.