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Will Microsoft Office 2013 finally challenge Google Docs?

Will Microsoft Office 2013 Steve Ballmer

I would like current technology to solve a problem for me.

I hate the process of trading files with people through e-mail. Particularly I hate the fact that I, a Gmail user, have to download any files that I need to work from. As a writer and editor, this process is done quite a few times in a workday. Most documents I only have to use as a reference, which seems wasteful of my precious disk space.

What I need is an online office system that saves files to the cloud, where I can share the files with my clients and editors.

I think you know where I’m going with this.

I can’t say I have any complaints with Office. It does what it’s done for the past 20 years. I know it inside and out, even the confusing Mac versions. But just because I’m happily married doesn’t mean I can’t look around. As I tell my wife, how do you know the value of the merchandise you have if you don’t know what else is on the market?

She doesn’t like that analogy.

So I’ve decided to try and go Office-less, using Google Docs and Google’s new Drive system. Drive is like Dropbox or any other cloud-based file system, except that it seamlessly integrates into the Google ecosystem.

So I upload most of my client files into Drive and start working in the cloud. How hard can it be?

Google Drive

Well, first, if you want to open and work on an existing .docx file in Google Docs, it will have to transform it into a .gdoc. That’s fine, I guess, if you’re willing to divorce Word. Since I’m just browsing (or “swinging”, as I’ve taken to calling it this week), I wish I could still work in the native format. That, and 99 percent of the world still works in .doc or .docx.

So I’m typing and typing, doing a little formatting here, accepting a correction for my fat fingers there. Most of my projects aren’t very complicated. A couple of different styles and headings. Maybe the occasional outline. Google Docs does great with these. If I were doing a technical manual or something more complicated, I would probably find some features missing. But for my purposes, as a small-time freelance writer and editor, it works fine.

In my head, I’ve already saved myself whatever license fee Microsoft wants to extract from me for the next version of Office. Which is good because I’ll probably need it for alimony after the “shopping around” analogy.

Then it comes time to send this masterpiece to the client. Google Docs has no problem with sending documents to established Google contacts. It will even convert it to more palatable file formats, like .doc, before it goes.

But what if your document needs to be attached to a previous conversation string in Gmail? You would think the two would work seamlessly, considering they live right next to each other. There’s no option for that. No “Attach Google Doc” button in Gmail. And God help you if you want to use Outlook.

So you do the old Attach File. Your Google Drive shows up just where it should, and you browse to the file you were working on.

It’s still in .gdoc. And there are no conversion options.

Well, actually, there are. All you have to do is go back into Google Docs and download your file, specifying that you want a .doc format. Of course, it’s no longer in the cloud and you still get a build-up of files in your computer, but now you can attach the file to your e-mail string. But as you go through the process, you just have the nagging feeling that this was a lot more complicated than it had to be. And it was definitely more complicated than working in Word.

All because the market has been segmented into different file types.

Another consideration I need to make is how well whatever solution I adopt plays with future hardware. If my office applications can operate on an iPad without loss of functionality, I could move the majority of my computing to the tablet, saving quite a bit of money (and weight) over a new laptop. In my research, Google has been non-committal about Google Docs functionality on tablets in general and the iPad in particular. There are some third-party solutions, but so far none of them are integrated with Drive, so I might not be able to get my documents.

office 365 2012 documents

This is where the Office 2013, and in particular Office 365 (the cloud-based variant), needs to step up to the plate. Microsoft needs to do what it has done for 30 years now. Take someone else’s idea (Google Docs), make it proprietary (the new, online Office 365), and make it work with various hardware manufacturers (Apple).

The ability to work on Office files is the last hurdle for tablets to become full-service computing solutions. If the new Office is as seamless and robust as Microsoft’s marketing materials claim, the last barrier to the world of cloud-based tablet computing would finally fall for a lot of lightweight users.

Of course, I don’t have a way to check out Office 2013 preview myself. The demo doesn’t work on a Mac.

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