Google Docs reconsidered

Two years out of beta, how does Google's online office suite hold up?

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Drawing

Drawing, which allows users to create flow charts and other line-based graphics, has also improved. It gives you the tools to draw straight lines, curves and arcs, or you can draw lines freehand.

Google Docs

Drawing allows users to create flow charts and other line-based graphics.

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Besides presets for inserting circles, rectangles, triangles and other polygons, there's a large selection of other shapes -- variations on stars, arrows and speech bubbles, for example. Their fill-in color can be whatever you want.

Lines and shape elements can be dragged and dropped throughout the work area, and their sizes or rotations can be adjusted. Clicking on a line or shape marks it with anchor points that you can click on and drag to alter the line's or shape's size. The layer order of these elements (i.e. whether one shape lies over or under another) can be changed.

A relatively new feature, introduced in December, is the ability to add connectors to your shapes that will move with those shapes, making it much easier to create and edit flow charts.

You can add editable text to your drawing -- you can change the style (bold, italic, underline), color and size, but not the typeface. You can also add word art -- text as a graphical element that you can rotate, change its color or style (to bold and/or italic), and choose from among 10 fonts for it.

Your drawings can be downloaded as a JPG or PNG image, a PDF document, or as a scalable vector line graphic file (SVG format).

Drawing can be launched either as its own separate application or as a tool from within Document, Presentation or Spreadsheet. By clicking "Insert" and choosing "Drawing" from the toolbar of these applications, a mini version of Drawing appears within a smaller window. When you're finished with your drawing, you click "Save & Close" and your artwork is inserted into the document, presentation or spreadsheet.

Form

Form is a very basic application that makes it easy to quickly create a simple online survey.

Google Docs

Form makes it easy to create a simple online survey.

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You just type in the title of your survey, any explanatory text you need and your questions. You can choose the kind of response you want for each question, including multiple-choice, checklist and ratings-scale formats. A number of themes are available to pep up the finished look of your survey as it will appear online.

Once you're finished, Google Docs lets you email or embed a link to your online survey. You can view the responses you've received either as a summary within Forms or as a separate spreadsheet document.

Conclusions

With Microsoft's announcement on June 28 that Office 365 had left its beta status behind and was officially launched, the market for Web-based suites of office applications became even more crowded. (Other similar suites include ThinkFree Online and Zoho.) To declare that the Web is killing the traditional desktop office suite may be premature, but the concept of online office suites appears to be gaining momentum as a norm rather than cloud hype.

Having passed the two-year mark, Google Docs has grown into a strong alternative to, in particular, desktop word processing and spreadsheet applications, and it offers the basic features that most people would expect.

It doesn't feel quite like Google Docs has entered its 2.0 phase, though -- perhaps that will happen with the return of offline functionality and if Google figures innovative ways to incorporate its new social networking service, Google+, with Google Docs. (For example, imagine playing your slide shows from Presentation directly to a group videoconference in Google+.)

What's good about Google Docs right now are the individual components. Over time all the changes and tweaks to it, and those sure to come, look to be adding up to a better whole.

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