Using Google Documents and Spreadsheets

Cut software costs and boost productivity the Google way

It's very easy to predict the end of a certain Redmond, Washington software giant (many have called it before and been wrong), but a deep look into the simplicity and ease of Google's free online word processing and spreadsheet software, and -- well -- the bugle player is at the very least warming up "taps" for the most-used half of the Microsoft Office suite, Word and Excel.

Widely available broadband is part of the reason. Faster, more reliable Internet connections mean that being "online" is normal. But where Google's first attempt at office software really shines is collaborative work. Here's an overview of how to deploy and use Google's Docs & Spreadsheets service in your small business.

Fear not, it's just a Web page

The first stumbling block for most of who grew up on floppy disks and booting up is that Google's office offering is an ASP, or application service provider. Put simply, you click open the Web page and the program is there, running and ready to use.

Importing and exporting your old documents and spreadsheets

Generally, migrating your existing work into Googleworld is not as slick as it might seem. You can move Excels and Word documents easily enough, but tricky formatting is often lost, and if your sheets have complex formulas, they likely won't work correctly. Expect to start over in most cases.

Collaborating just got a heck of lot easier, no matter where you are

Microsoft is rocketing along with a collaborative suite for business called Live, but your small office can latch on to the productivity power of instant document and spreadsheet sharing now -- for free.

Share information like crazy

The first thing you'll likely do in terms of sharing is "publish" a document or spreadsheet., which generates a Web address for that document anyone can see, Googlenaut or Googlenot.

Use the Web to gather and crunch data in your docs

One little understood but potentially powerful feature harnesses the Googleverse to update spreadsheet cells instantly. Stock prices, statistics, movie times -- anything that Google tracks can be built into a sheet.

Keep tabs on new features

Since Google is always developing the product, you needn't wait for an upgrade (or, for that matter, buy the upgrade) to enjoy new features. In the name of simplicity, however, Google will not beat you over the head with every little improvement.

  • One fundamental difference is that, instead of folders, Google maintains a simple list of your latest documents. As you use, update, create or change them, they'll stick to the top. But click "view all" and there's the whole she-bang.
  • Want to look back in time? You can track changes and see your documents as they were saved in a setting known as "revisions."
  • Remember, this is Google. You can quickly search all your documents, and their contents, using Google's search box inside the documents home page.