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Using Word with Google Docs

It's easy to collaborate with a document on Google Docs and finalize it in Microsoft Word.

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In a previous issue of Office Watch we talked about using the advantages of Google's free 'Docs and Spreadsheet's service in combination with Microsoft Office (or any office suite).

Judging by the feedback from readers, some of you are already doing that while others are now trying it out.

"Until your article, I'd assumed that it was 'all or nothing' - either use Microsoft or Google. But now I'm starting to share draft documents with Google and it's miles easier and faster than emailing Word documents around" -- George G from Illinois.

The simple collaboration system in Google Docs is much more accessible and dynamic than anything available with Microsoft Office with or without Sharepoint. And it's just the beginning with technologies coming from Google that will allow data sharing in ways that Microsoft promises but only delivers in expensive and proprietary ways.

In this issue we'll look at some of the practical differences between Word and Google Docs. Google Docs formatting options are not as extensive as Microsoft Word and that will always be the case.

The real battleground isn't making fancy documents, but sharing information and collaboration. That's something we'll focus on in future issues because that's where Google Docs really shines.

Simple document transfer

As we detailed before, you can upload Word documents (but not the new .docx formats) into Google Docs and save to your computer in .doc format.

There's a much simpler option - copy and paste.

Open up your document in Word and also a Google Doc pane - then copy some or all of the text between the two.

When you copy from Word, the font, size, color, margin etc are converted into HTML code for Google Docs. Standard HTML tags like Headings (H1, H2) are also copied, though Google Docs only directly shows heading levels 1, 2 and 3.

Word - Basic headings in MS Word 2007 image from Using Word with Google Docs at Office-Watch.com

Google Docs - Word 2007 headings copied image from Using Word with Google Docs at Office-Watch.com

Click on the 'Edit HTML' link in Google Docs to see the HTML rendering. Heading styles in Word show up as <h1> tags etc followed by font, size and color inside a <font> tag.

Google Docs - Word 2007 headings copied - HTML view image from Using Word with Google Docs at Office-Watch.com

Normally you won't bother with the HTML view but it can be handy if you're trying to work out why a Google Doc looks a particular way.

Google handles most Word formatting but the more complicated options like complex tables may look different. Text boxes and frames aren't supported by Google Docs at all.

Limited Formatting

While Google Docs can support formatting copied into it, the direct formatting options are much more limited. If you allow for the more limited feature set in Google Docs, there's reasonable compatibility between it and Microsoft Word.

You can copy text with formatting between Google Docs and Word (or any other offline word-processor). Even though Google Docs might not have the same features as MS Word you can mostly copy across what you've done into Google Docs.

For example, you can copy into Google Docs some text with 'Cambria' font formatting and edit it. But you can't apply that font to new formatting. Currently the font selection in Google Docs is limited to Normal, Serif, Wide, Narrow, Comic Sans MS, Courier New, Garamond, Georgia, Tahoma, Trebuchet MS, Verdana and Wingdings. The font size menu is limited to 8, 10, 12, 14 18, 24 and 36pt.

In those cases, and many others, you can go to the 'Edit HTML' option and tinker with the formatting yourself. For example, for a larger font size change the tag to read something like <font size="64pt"> or <font color="#4f81bd" face="Playbill"> for a different color and font.

The Google Docs toolbar only shows Left, Center and Right options but under the Style button you'll find a 'Justify Text' option to complete the set.

Fonts

Just like with Word documents and web pages, the fonts have to be installed on any computer otherwise an alternative font will be used. In the example (see the images in the online version of this article) the 'Cambria' font, supplied with Office 2007 is replaced with another font if not available.

Google Docs - Word 2007 headings copied - viewed without Cambria installed image from Using Word with Google Docs at Office-Watch.com

Styles

Style support fairly seamless in both directions.

If you have a custom style in Word and copy text in that style into Google Docs the formatting is converted into HTML and the style name (almost) retained as a class label.

For example, a paragraph of style 'Fred Dagg' when copied to Google Docs looks the same in both documents. The HTML in Google Docs shows what's happened:

<p class="FredDagg" style="MARGIN:0cm 0cm 10pt">

<font color="#000000" face="Calibri" size="4">Text in the style of Fred Dagg</font>

The explicit formatting is retained in the font tag and the margins in the style attribute. The Word style name 'Fred Dagg' is changed to a name with no spaces 'FredDagg'.

If you copy text into Word the formatting is retained with the class identifier becoming a Word style. In our example there's a small problem because the style name was altered from 'Fred Dagg' with a space to 'FredDagg' without a middle space. When our example is copied from Google Docs back into Word it creates a new style called 'freddagg'. Presumably this is a bug that Google will address.

Really, it's quite amazing what Google can do in a web browser. Years ago Microsoft seemed a little paranoid when they talked about a browser (in those days, Netscape) being an alternative platform for applications. With Google Docs and Spreadsheets you can see what's possible.

Comments

Comments are available in both Word and Google Docs but are handled differently and are not interchangeable.

In Word you can choose 'Insert Comments' and they'll usually appear in a 'balloon' on the right-side.

In Google Docs the 'Comments' option on the 'Insert' menu adds indented text with a special HTML tag.

If you copy some text from Word with comment, the comment is pasted into the Google Doc but looks different than it does in Word - and it's different from Google Docs own comments. The Word pasted comment gets inserted as text at the bottom of the document with an internal link placed at the document location.

Google Docs is a great vehicle for working together on putting together a document. Authorised people can easily and quickly jump in to add their content and comments to a document - even when others are working on the document at the same time.

The formatting options are less developed than in MS Word but more than adequate for many needs.

Once the content in a document is finalised, you can copy it into Microsoft Word (or another word-processor) for final checking and formatting before publication. For example a letter can be developed online then copied into Word for printing with headers and footers etc.

Article posted: Monday, 18 June 2007

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