Why Google Docs is the big fat loser in the battle of Docs vs. Word

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As a freelance writer, when I’m talking to a new client or potential client, I try to say “Yes!” just as often as possible. But these days, I find myself saying yes even when my brain is screaming “NO!!!!” Why?

Because for whatever reason, clients are asking me to work in Google Docs, and as far as I’m concerned, Google Docs represents the death of intelligence and productivity.

It’s not just about new technology – in general, I’m happy to adapt to whatever’s the latest and greatest, and my speed at ramping up with any new app or program can be super-fast if I want it to be. I’m not dumb, and it’s not that I haven’t tried Google Docs. It’s that I’ve tried – and it’s simply terrible.

There are definitely pluses, including virtually seamless collaboration and a ubiquitous work environment you can access from almost anywhere. And of course, the zero-dollars price tag. But as far as I’m concerned, those aren’t enough to make working in Google Docs worthwhile.

Here are the three main reasons I avoid working in Google Docs whenever possible:

  • It’s slower – this is maybe the biggest strike against Google Docs.  I don’t have the fastest internet connection to begin with (apparently, there’s nothing faster available in my area), and there’s definitely way more latency when I’m working in Google Docs, through a web-based interface, than when I’m typing in Word or any other program directly on my own computer.  You might feel like I’m just being nitpicky, especially if I add that the latency is probably only on the order of milliseconds.  But trust me, I can FEEL the delay.  In Word, I press a key and within what I’d call “instantly,” the corresponding letter appears on the screen.  In Google Docs, the delay is only slightly longer – but long enough to be tangible.  And that in itself is highly disconcerting.  When you’re typing 90+ words per minute, there’s no time to sit around and wait for your screen to catch up with your thoughts.
  • It’s less powerful – granted, most of us don’t use even a small fraction of the features available in Word on a daily basis.  But I consider myself (ahem) a bit of a power user, in that I do use a large number of them fairly regularly.  I even used to know how to do mail merge, which used to be considered the pinnacle of power userage (well, probably macros are, and yes, I used to use those more as well…).  One aspect of Word that I use on a daily basis are Track Changes and all its related functionality.  Google Docs does offer “Suggesting” mode, a parallel feature, but the functionality is limited and in my opinion, it works far less intuitively.  (Word also offers a Compare Documents feature which I use very often as well…)

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  • It’s less design-savvy – I write books, and I also format them largely in Word.  I also design things like posters, banners, and whatever, and Word is a big part of that.  This is partly true because Word has access to my squirrel-like font trove, which currently numbers around 759.  Having used word processors since before WYSIWYG (which ceased to be A Thing about 20 or so years ago), working on a document in Google Docs (and most other web-based text layout and design solutions) feels like I’m taking a huge step backwards into the era of rich text, WordPad, and other such primitive tools.  For many people, Word’s design features may seem like overkill.  But I happen to really enjoy having granular control over the appearance of my final copy, something Google Docs doesn’t quite provide.

Over the last week, I’ve also encountered one more annoyance with Google Docs.  It doesn’t let you save your document, and instead, it saves automatically every couple of seconds (an idea I don’t really love much either, though it’s possibly outweighed by the advantage of having your stuff automatically backed up!). 

But now, on top of that, after I’ve finished typing, even if it says that all changes have been saved in Drive), when I go to close the document, my browser warns me that some changes might not have been saved.  Even if I wait – at one point, I just left the window open for hours testing this out! – the browser (Chrome) continues to believe that there are changes that need saving, despite Google Docs’s assertion that everything has been saved.  I don’t want to close the window when this happens because of rumours from other sites that users have lost their work in this situation.

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Since you’re still with me, I’ll assume you’re inclined to agree.  So here’s one last reason I’m hesitant to use Google Docs, though it might sound a little on the paranoid side: I’m a control freak, and updates are often a VERY BAD THING.

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When I find a program that works, I like to hit the freeze-frame button and keep my work environment exactly the same until such time as I’m convinced there’s another solution that will work better.

In 2018, in a world of automatic updates, this makes me a dinosaur.  Windows, Word, Adobe, my virus-scanning software… almost every program on my computer is doing its utmost to update itself constantly.  Windows is the worst, since it does this without permission or notification – usually, the only way you know it’s happening is when you go to switch on your computer and it makes you wait an extra 5, 10, or even 15 minutes while it configures all those wonderful updates:

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As I said, I’m a control freak, but this has come about through hard-lived experience.  I know all too well that most of those updates are obscure patches to the lousy software they sold me in the first place, and very few are designed to make me a happier computer user.  And some, maybe just a few, will actually have a catastrophic impact on me and my work flow.  Not necessarily deleting my files, but slowing down the way I work or removing features I happen to enjoy.

So I stop these automatic updates whenever possible.  But the thing about Google Docs is that, because the program is web-based, it’s automatically updated any time the folks at Google want it to be.  Shut down your document and come back to it tomorrow morning and it’s possible that Google Docs will have an entirely new layout or feature set from the day before.

Again, most of those updates are minor and unnoticeable.  A few will interfere with the way I work.  And in no case, when I’m working with an online program like Google Docs, do I have any control over whether or not to accept the update the way I do if it’s on my own turf, inside my own computer.

Does this mean I can't or won't collaborate?  Of course not!
There are other ways to collaborate, though I'll admit that many-- such as a shared folder in Dropbox-- aren't quite as easy or as real-time as Google Docs.

If ALL you're looking for is the ability to work on the EXACT SAME document at the EXACT SAME time, I have to concede that Google Docs may well be the winner.  But if you're looking for solutions that create a great teamwork environment where every team member can put their best foot forward, I honestly believe Microsoft Word is the big fat winner.

I’m not a Luddite, but I have come to trust computers and software developers quite a lot less in the 40-plus years I’ve been working with, in, on, and around computers.  And like I said, mostly that’s with good reason.  Using Google Docs just feels too much like handing over the keys to the kingdom – the very tiny writing kingdom that is my small freelance business.

How do YOU feel about Google Docs vs MS Word?  Let me know in the Comments!