The new version of Google Docs sports considerable collaboration tools, as well as improved editing and formatting, a faster, more useful spreadsheet and new collaborative drawing software. UPDATED: April 27 2010.

It's a worthwhile upgrade to the web-based office suite, especially for those to whom collaboration is of vital importance. But because it no longer allows offline access to documents (for now), and because it's still not as powerful as Microsoft Office 2010, Google Docs is not likely to knock Office off of its throne as king of the productivity suites.

It's likely no coincidence that this major update to Google Docs comes just before Microsoft finalizes Office 2010. Based on what we saw when we reviewed the beta of Office 2010, this new version of Google Docs is far superior to the web-based version of Office. Those who want to collaborate on documents online will want to use Google Docs, while those who want the most powerful office suite will stay with Office.

Note that by default, current Google Docs users will still be presented with the old version of the web-based software. You have to actively turn on the new features.

To access the new version, when you're in your Google Docs list, click the Settings link on the upper right portion of the screen, select Document Settings, click the Editing link, then select the option "Create new text documents using the latest version of the document editor." Reverse those steps if you want to return to the older version of Google Docs.

Keep in mind that, when you create a document in the new version of Google Docs, from then on it will always open in that new version, even if you end up deciding to go back to the old version for creating new documents. In other words, once you create it in the new version, it will always open in the new version, no matter what your settings are.

This holds true even for documents created by other people. So if someone creates a document in the new version, and you haven't yet used the new version and haven't enabled it, when you open that document, it will still open in the new version. Also, if you're using the new version of Google Docs, you can edit documents created with the old version.

Google Docs: New tools for the word processor

Those who use their word processor for collaboration will be particularly pleased with this new version of Google Docs. Unlike in the previous version, you can see the changes that people make in real time as they type. When someone else is typing in a document, a colored cursor moves as they make the changes (each person gets their own colour), with the person's name above the cursor.

The other major change for collaborators is that you can now chat as you work on a document. When other people are working on the same document as you, you're shown a list of names on the upper right portion of the screen. Click the down arrow next to a name or names, and a chat sidebar opens that includes a list of all the people working on the document (again, colour-coded) and displays an area where you can type to chat and see other people's chats.

These two collaboration features were previously available in the Google Docs spreadsheet, but not its word processor. They may not seem significant, but taken together, they're a major step forward in true collaboration.

There are other useful changes to the word processor as well. Google Doc's word processor has always been severely underpowered compared to Word. This new version is still not nearly as powerful, but some very important features have been added.

Key among these are a ruler and tab stops, making it far easier to create proper margins and to format documents. There have also been several other tweaks, including better handling of comments and images in documents.

NEXT: what's new in the spreadsheet >>

Related articles:

Microsoft Office 2010 review

Microsoft Office 2010 Web Apps review

The new version of Google Docs sports considerable collaboration tools, as well as improved editing and formatting, a faster, more useful spreadsheet and new collaborative drawing software.

Google Docs: what's new in the spreadsheet

The Google Docs' spreadsheet is not as powerful as Excel, but as with the Google Docs' word processor, important new features have been added.

Spreadsheets load more quickly than in the previous version, and scrolling is smoother - more like a desktop application than a web-based one, which can be herky-jerky at times.

Also useful is the addition of a formula bar for editing cells. In the previous version, you did your editing in the cell itself, which was difficult because it was hard to read what you were doing and there was little space in which to work. Now it works more like Excel.

Autocomplete has also been added, and you can now drag and drop columns. It's still not Excel, but all these improvements make it far easier to use the Google Docs spreadsheet.

Google Docs: New drawing tool

Google Docs' new drawing tool is fairly rudimentary - it's very much like Windows Paint. You'll find the usual tools for drawing lines, adding objects and text, filling areas with colour and so on. But nothing beyond that, so don't expect to create high-quality graphics.

To use the graphics you've created in other documents, you copy them using what Google Docs calls its web clipboard, which you access via an icon in the toolbar. This makes it easy to copy items between Google Docs applications and documents. The web clipboard keeps items pasted into it for a month.

Where Google Drawing beats Paint is in collaboration - as in the rest of Google Docs, you can chat while using it, and see changes that other people make while they make them. Still, it's not likely that many people will make a great deal of use of this tool.


NEXT: our first review of Google Docs, from March 2007 >>

Related articles:

Microsoft Office 2010 review

Microsoft Office 2010 Web Apps review

The new version of Google Docs sports considerable collaboration tools, as well as improved editing and formatting, a faster, more useful spreadsheet and new collaborative drawing software.

You could make a case that there's no such thing as a full-blown office suite that can't do presentations. And if that's true, Google Docs just became a full-blown office suite.

The browser-based service has also changed its name from Google Docs and Spreadsheets to Google Docs. Which is just as well, since 'Google Docs, Spreadsheets, and Presentations' is a bit of a mouthful. The presentation features are also now part of Google Apps, the superset of Docs that also includes Gmail, Google Calendar, and other productivity tools.

Google Docs' added presentation features don't amount to a Microsoft PowerPoint 2007 killer, or even a PowerPoint clone. Indeed, a bunch of features that PC Advisor might look on as essential for a presentation package to include are glaring omissions - the ability to draw shapes, design your own templates, or create transitions, for example.

But Google Docs' presentation features do let you import Microsoft PowerPoint slides with adequate fidelity, and Google Docs' web-based collaboration features go beyond anything that Microsoft has put into PowerPoint. And that adds up to an interesting and useful service.

As with Google Docs' word processor and spreadsheet, its presentation tool pretty much looks like a somewhat streamlined desktop application that happens to live in your browser. In this case, that means that there's a thumbnail viewer for all your slides on the left, and a big editing window in the middle.

Calling Google Docs' editing tools basic is paying them a compliment. You can add and format text, import graphics, shuffle slides around, and choose from 15 pretty-basic canned themes. At least all the features work the way you'd expect, and work briskly - which isn't true of their counterparts in most other online presentation applications.

Things get interesting when your work involves more than one person. As with Google Docs' word processor and spreadsheet, you can invite other people - providing they have Google accounts - to edit your presentations, which are stored on the web. You can also give presentations across the web, with everybody involved seeing the show as you give it.

That said, your viewers might not be prepared to wait for you to give the presentation. Google has chosen to err on the side of freedom in options given to your spectators - they can jump around in your slides, or even take control of the show and become the person who decides when the slides advance. That's a pretty democratic approach and, while it probably won't work for the most important of presentations, it should work well enough for informal, internal presentations. Which are, of course, the kinds of shows that Google says Docs' presentation features are designed to handle.

When you give a Google Docs presentation, everyone involved gets a chat window so they can discuss the slides as they pop up. All of this collaboration is simple and straightforward, but still powerful enough that some people might opt for doing free Google Docs presentations over using a paid-for web conferencing service. If all you want to do is get some slides online, Docs may be all you need.

Google Docs presentations can be published for latecomers to watch at another time. And, should you require a traditional, in-person slideshow on a PC that might not be connected to the internet, you can save all your slides as HTML within a Zip file, so you can load them and show them on any PC with a browser.

Even if you give Google a pass on editing tools for the moment and hope that it never becomes Microsoftian bloatware, it's missing some stuff it really ought to have. For instance, Google Docs won't export your presentations in PowerPoint form. The only way to do a full-screen show is to put your browser into full-screen mode, something that Google Docs can't do itself. Plus the undo feature doesn't work very well, and the only integration with Google Docs' other features is an option in the word processor that lets you convert a text document into a rudimentary presentation.

NEXT: our expert verdict >>


Google Docs' presentation tool is, ulimately, a rough draft that thoroughly deserves the beta label. Google reportedly plans to beef up the editing tools, eventually turning Google Docs into a richer environment. Judging from the slow-but-steady progress of Google Docs' word processor and spreadsheet, the presentation features probably won't acquire PowerPoint-crushing sophistication anytime soon. That said, Google Docs should become only more useful over the coming months and, in the meantime, a lot of people are going to find it very useful indeed.

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