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Google Drive leads in features, lags in ease-of-use

Woody Leonhard | May 30, 2014
If you're looking for the most capabilities for your buck -- even if you aren't spending any bucks at all -- the Google apps deliver the goods.

Opening the simple Word document in Google Docs brought something of a surprise. The Monotype Corsiva font was rendered perfectly onscreen in Google Docs, but Docs' font changing drop-down menu -- which normally shows the font name -- was blank for the Monotype Corsiva characters. Wingdings didn't make it through the transition; they disappeared completely. A spurious page number appeared in the header. Items inside tables could be edited, but the formula didn't work.

After changing a few words in the document and downloading, the retrieved DOCX file had one major problem: The Monotype Corsiva font, which rendered so well onscreen in Docs, was changed to Corsiva, and Word displayed a completely different font from the original. The formula in the table was gone as well. It seems that Google's font handling isn't as robust as it should be.

The DOCX with tracked changes fared better, with no problems in rendering. All of the tracked changes had been accepted, and the Calibri font stayed the Calibri font. I made changes to a couple of words, and the downloaded DOCX file worked just fine in Word. That was quite remarkable.

The four-page DOCX newsletter, which was composed almost entirely of simple text boxes and pasted photos, was a nonstarter. Every attempt to open it in Google Docs resulted in the message, "Sorry, an error occurred when opening this file. Please try again." Considering how badly Word Online mangled the same file, I figure that's a blessing.

The large but relatively simple XLS opened in Google Sheets with no problems. The formulas worked, and there were no spurious errors (unlike Numbers for iWork, which refused to subtract dates). Changes in cells updated very quickly -- as quickly as in desktop Excel. Downloading the resulting XLSX proved a very pleasant surprise -- the changes took, and everything else was pristine.

The more complex spreadsheet with chart didn't fare as well. Repeated attempts to open it resulted in the now familiar message: "Sorry, an error occurred when opening this file. Please try again." Apparently that's the message Google apps show whenever they can't render a file. The "Please try again" part seems like mockery.

The PowerPoint presentation opened in Google Slides, but it didn't display well -- fonts changed, items slid all over the slides, graphics appeared as big white spaces. Animations and transitions didn't work. When I changed a few words, downloaded the presentation, and opened it in PowerPoint, the problems persisted: mismatched fonts, misaligned slides, no transitions, and big white fields for graphics.

All in all, simple Word documents came through Google Docs pretty well, but unusual fonts can cause problems. A more complex document didn't even open. Simple spreadsheets come through fine. But even a simple presentation cratered.


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