Let’s get this out of the way up front: it has now been years since I last created a Microsoft Word document. Mind blown? Then this post is for you.
Don’t get me wrong, between all of my roles I create countless documents every month. I switched to Google’s alternative productivity suite (Google Docs, Sheets, and Slides) for a trial period years ago and have not looked back.
Now when it’s time to create a new document, I happily default to Google.
Google has offered word processor, spreadsheet, and presentation programs as a competitor to Microsoft Office since roughly 2012. Google’s versions are built off the premise that saving a document and multiple versions shouldn’t ever be things.
Here’s your handy intro:
Google Docs = Microsoft Word alternative
Google Sheets = Microsoft Excel alternative
Google Slides = Microsoft PowerPoint alternative
If you tried Google Docs, Sheets, and Slides prior to 2014, you probably noticed that the services were rudimentary, so you may have stuck with Microsoft (Word, Excel, and PowerPoint). But it’s time for the veterinary world to give Google another look.
I can now confidently say that if you are still using Microsoft’s comparative relics, you are working with inferior tools.
The Why (differences are many)
Free: Google’s services are free. Fa-fa-free.
Saving: It’s not a thing with Google. There is no save button because all changes are automatically saved to the central version of the document. The best part is you essentially never worry about losing work.
Real Time Collaboration: One of the most powerful Google features is the ability to edit a document at the same time as (multiple) other people. This now infamous commercial from the Google Docs release campaign explains it well.
Track Changes: “Suggesting” mode allows you to have the same capability as Microsoft “track changes”.
Comments: Comments are supercharged in Google versions. You can put a comment on anything and assign it to any collaborator. If you tag them (type +theirname), the comment will be emailed to the user automatically for action. They can even reply to it from their email. Comments can also be referenced after resolution.
Version Control: If you click on the text “All changes saved in Drive” in the top bar, you can see the complete revision history (and revert anything) for every document. You no longer need to save versions or remember previous changes. When working on employment contracts, for example, you also no longer need a compare tool because you can always see what changes were made and who made them.
Sharing: Microsoft document sharing usually involves various email attachments, which can be forwarded to anyone, lost, and creates a million existing version headaches. Google allows you to control who can see the document (just click the share button). You decide when and how anyone can access (view only, comment only, full edit power).
Other power tips: Since your document is essentially it’s own private “website” you can also share your link publicly for anyone to access. You can also turn off sharing later, set a timer that gives collaborators access for a limited time, and share and then edit (if you find a typo or want to keep working). This list goes on.
Add-ons: Many like to point out that you can’t use some of the specialized features from Microsoft Office in Google Docs, Sheets, or Slides. That may be true but now that you can find and install powerful third party add-ons that take care of those features (and much more), that point is essentially moot.
Keep Files on Your Computer: Downloading the free Google Drive app to your PC or Mac will allow you to keep your Google Docs, Sheets, and Slides on your hard drive in traditional file folders. Technically when you click to open them, they are just links that open your web browser. The other beautiful thing is you can do this on multiple machines (work, home, Uncle Ned’s house…) and keep your files in sync at all times.
Online and Offline: Originally, Google Docs were only available when you were online. No more. Now you can have the ability to use Google Docs when you have no internet (just like you can with traditional Microsoft Word). Here’s a guide for doing this.
Mobility: Using the free Google Docs, Sheets, and Slides mobile apps (iPad, iPhone, Android), you can work with your documents on the small screen. The apps allow you to save document offline on your phone and the Slides app even allows you to present from your phone to a Chromecast-connected device!
Explore Button: In the lower right hand corner, is a new button called “Explore”. It’s a handy little tool that analyzes what you are working on and provides automated and relevant assistance. In Google Docs it helps you research, in Google Sheets you get instant analytics, and in Slides it suggests design changes. It isn’t perfect but when it works, it can be magical. Check out more info here.
Slides vs. PowerPoint: PowerPoint was my last holdout, but because of Google Slides ease of use and simplicity, I will likely never go back. Slides allows you to smoothly copy and paste web-sourced images and videos, is more user-friendly for formatting, provides powerful audience tools when presenting, and works with PowerPoint whenever absolutely necessary (just download as PowerPoint). It also has a built-in laser pointer!
It’s Not Either/Or: It rarely ever is with technology. There will still be the holdouts in your life resistant to trying new tools, thus stuck using Microsoft. All Google Docs, Sheets, and Slides can be downloaded as a Microsoft (or PDF) version for free. While in your Google Docs, Sheets, or Slides, just go to File → Download As and select your format.
Bonus: As a bonus, Google’s suite of tools also includes three lesser known apps: Google Forms (a powerful survey tool), Google Drawings (diagramming tool), and Google Fusion Tables (a new database manager).
Google Docs, Sheets, and Slides are stored in your free Google Drive (hard drive in the cloud accessed through your web browser and duplicated on your computer’s hard drive).
Here’s how to get started in 5 simple steps:
Create a Google Account (if you don’t have one, its time).
Sign into your fancy new Google Drive.
Click “New” and pick the type of document you want to create.
Download Google Drive to your computer(s) to keep new documents accessible.
Read through these tutorials: Docs, Sheets, Slides.
That’s it. Welcome to a new gear of productivity!
About the Author
Dr. Caleb Frankel is an ER veterinarian, author, speaker, and entrepreneur. He currently divides his time between two roles: emergency veterinarian at VSEC, a 70-doctor referral hospital in Greater Philadelphia, PA (USA) and the founder of Instinct Science, a new animal health company helping the world’s state-of-the-art veterinary practices streamline their care through medically-driven invoicing and thoughtful automation.
He served as Director of New Product Development at Brief Media for 4 years where he lead the development and launch of products such as Plumb's Veterinary Drugs and New York Vet. Follow Dr. Frankel on Twitter @VMDtechnology.