Image via CrunchBase
About three months ago, I waxed poetic about how Google Docs were becoming an important part of my writing process.
Last night, I told Google Docs that I need to start seeing other people.
Don’t get me wrong — the idea of a robust online word processor appeals to me immensely. However, the main advantage it had was that it was available at both my work and home computer, and I could easily update in either place. I thought that all I needed was something that was more than Notepad but less than OpenOffice, and Google Docs seemed to be that.
But as I started using it more heavily, I began to notice problems. For some reason, OpenOffice exports from Google Docs are badly formatted: they always have the right margin at 0% (though the other margins are fine), and it assumes your default language is Russian. Correcting and reuploading the document doesn’t change this problem, so everytime I get a fresh document I have to reformat it. I thought it was a problem with OpenOffice, but it happened on other computers as well.
Plus, it’s not as simple as it lets on. There’s still bits of code stuck in the documents. When I use highlighting, I can’t turn it back off — I can only turn it to white. But that white highlighting does carry over when you copy and paste it into WordPress. It even shows up on paper (very, very slightly).
Organizing documents is a bear sometimes, too. Even if I have it all tagged and foldered, sometimes Google stays stuck on the master list of all documents sorted by time updated, so I still have to wade around a bit. It’s kind of nice to be able to tag documents into multiple "folders," but in the past three months I haven’t had a need for that feature once.
Gears doesn’t always work, either. A document I updated three weeks ago is still listed as "updated offline," even though I synced it three times. Which means I would be forced to use it only when I have an Internet connection, which is just not feasible. And Google isn’t always available.
(As a side note, I briefly looked in Zoho, but when it took five minutes to export a document, I gave up before I started.)
The solution I now have is pretty simple: I have my entire writing folder on Dropbox. I don’t anticipate I’ll be doing any meaningful writing on a foreign computer (and if I do, Google Docs will work in a pinch), but Dropbox is installed on all of the computers I do use regularly, and will sync files between my computers each time I boot up, so my files are always up-to-date on each. If I’m offline, the files are still there, so I can still work on them — they’re not hosted in a cloud. And Dropbox and OpenOffice are both still free.
Further, I found out that OpenOffice can turn off a lot of functions to give it a simpler experience, so I can free-write for a while, and then turn things on and do heavy editing without worrying if Google Docs will actually GIVE me my fucking file this time.
It was fun, Google Docs, but I think you need to mature a bit before we could look at any kind of serious relationship.