Google Apps

Five crucial features missing from Google Docs and counting

There are definitely features missing from Google Docs. Some are small annoyances and some are just perplexing show-stoppers.

When it comes to missing Google Doc features, here's the most important thing to say up-front, if you’re going to compile a list of Google Docs gripes: Microsoft Office compatibility doesn’t count.

Microsoft has no interest in undercutting perhaps the strongest selling point of its Word, Excel, and other Office products: unique formatting and Office-oriented features. And Google is, presumably, too smart to engage in an endless game of compatibility cat-and-mouse. So Google Docs and Office will always have conversion quirks, especially as files incorporate more advanced features.

Google Docs, too, is focused on the "10 percent of the (Office) functionality … that people use,” according to Rajen Sheth, Google Apps’ senior product manager. Google is aiming at people, small companies, and maybe larger companies that want to start small and easy, or who know in their bones that they mostly just write or add things in files, maybe make some of it bold or italic, and send it along.

That said, there are definitely things missing from Docs that many of us really would like to see included. Little things that make a big difference, and big things that are weird to imagine are intentional. We’ve compiled five good candidates here, but we want to hear your personal five, too, before rounding out a list of ten.

What features are missing from Google Docs according to you? Leave a note in the comments, reply on Twitter, or comment on Google+, and you might see your gripe get some notice, and possibly get Google’s attention.

1. Plain text file support

We highlighted Google Docs’ weird non-relationship with plain text and .txt files in this space two weeks ago, and, while the Docs team says they’re working on it, it’s weird that Docs still doesn’t even allow you to view a text file you’ve uploaded to their servers. An even more complete solution would be to offer options for copying and pasting text “as plain text,” but for now, just a way to work in .txt would be really, really nice.

2. Offline editing

This, too, is something that’s coming, according to Google. And in offering just view-only offline Docs files, they’re offering a nice make-do solution for laptop warriors and anyone encountering an unexpectedly cruddy connection. But a Docs file you can only read feels quite incomplete, and almost enforces the idea of needing to have a copy of Word installed, just in case.

3. Easier to grasp Google Apps sharing

When I’m using Docs with my personal Gmail account, the “Share” button makes sense. Click it, and I can invite people, from my Google Contacts list, to view or edit this file I’m working on. When I’m inside a Google Apps setting, like when I was using Apps to manage TEDxBuffalo, my default setting is to have everything I create be shared with “All of TEDxBuffalo.com,” which indicates that anyone inside that Apps setup can “find and view” my documents.

When members of the team log in, however, they don’t see those documents in their main list. I have to actually click the “Share” button and send the document to a meta-group I created, “Everyone.” Others who are using Docs in Apps make the same kind of assumptions about visibility, and who-can-see-what, and it ends up taking up far too much time in email threads and meetings.

4. Gmail and Tasks integration

If Docs has one big advantage, or at least parity, with Office, it’s that it’s tied into the same system where most of us receive our email. So why isn’t there an option to turn an email thread into a Docs document? And why is Tasks implemented into Calendar and Gmail, but not in Docs, where you’re quite often going to be working on your, you know, tasks?

5. Smarter guidance on image insertion

You’ve seen your fair share of slide presentations, multi-page primers, and flyers that use images grabbed from quick, simple Google Images searches. If you click to insert an image in a Docs document, one of the options appearing in the pop-up is to search Images and place that image right in the document. That makes sense, but there’s only a tiny, gray-text warning at the bottom that you should make sure you have the rights to the image you’re grabbing before placing it in documents - documents you probably intend to share and hand out.

I’ll hear some feedback on this, but I’d like to see Google make this search default to images licensed for free and commercial use, at least in Apps instances, with an option to search more widely, if you’d like. It would be a unique chance for Google to show it’s got a handle on the balance between free discovery and property rights.

Your turn

What Google Docs features are missing, underwhelming, or in need of an upgrade? As mentioned above, you can comment below, reply on Twitter, or comment on Google+.

About

Kevin Purdy is a freelance writer, a former editor at Lifehacker.com, and the author of The Complete Android Guide.

22 comments
ptrcksmth
ptrcksmth

I totally agree that the sharing model in the Google Apps version of Drive is not just counterintuitive but misleading. It seems like the "find and view" setting really makes no difference. But after spending much of a day beating my head against this, I came across a small trick to make Google Drive almost as intuitive as Dropbox (at least after setting it up). Short story - create a root folder + explicitly share a link to it + then have recipients add it to "My Drive" Long story:[ol] * Create a directory in the root of your Google Drive folder *Explicitly share this with everyone you want to be able to access it (e.g. a Google Apps group that includes everyone in your company) *Make sure to send them the link to the folder *They will have to:[ol] *click on the link to accept it *click the folder icon at the top of the page *click next to "My Drive" to move the folder into it (this is tricky - click between the down arrow and the words "My Drive"; you'll see a check mark if you got it right)[/ol][/ol] Now everything moved into this root folder will be viewable in the web and desktop clients by everyone who has added it to their own "My Drive." At least three implications of doing it this way:[ol] * All the sub-directories of the root directory will inheirit the parent directory's permissions by default; but they can be changed. I really like this - different from dropbox, this gives you fine-grained permissions control * Every new member of your group (e.g. a new employee) will have to explicitly go through these steps to add this folder to their "My Drive" * Any docs that a member of the team creates outside of that root directly will not be automatically shared[/ol] There also appears to be a minor difference in how this works when sharing a doc with specific people vs a group.[ol] * If shared with specific people, the doc will show up immediately in "shared with me" and can easily be moved into "my drive" * If shared with a group, each group member has to explicitly click on the link to accept the shared document and from there add it My Drive[/ol] Hope this helps someone.

The Management consultant
The Management consultant

Google have made a good start but it is work in progress.I am confident in a few months this product will take several steps forward.

archie_t
archie_t

Thanks for this article and for everyone adding their "wish list" items. As someone who's recommending our company switch to Google Apps, it's extremely helpful to know in advance what's missing so I can prepare for user questions.

MarkAllenWilliams
MarkAllenWilliams

I noticed before I got to this article the banner ad for Office 365. Sounds like pandering to your advertisers and not a fair side-by-side analysis.

jim.giseburt
jim.giseburt

I would like Google to add leader tabs to Docs. Leader tabs - the dashed or solid lines that improve readability of a document using columns of information created manually using the tab key.

nikunjbhatt84
nikunjbhatt84

Google hasn't implemented Tabs feature in their applications. I wish to have Tabs feature in GDocs and GMail, at-least.

rhonin
rhonin

Txt and offline. As a very frequent traveler (business) these are a must have. Enough said.

databaseben
databaseben

i would like to see and manage my google doc's files via the explorer instead of the browser.

vancevep
vancevep

Something that is VERY difficult for me to get use to is not being able to right-click and select 'copy', 'cut', or 'paste'. I know the CTRL+ keyboard shortcuts work, but my natural instinct is to right-click.

mike.mcburney
mike.mcburney

There is a lab that you can enable that allows converting an email thread to a document called "Create a Document". Once enabled you can select the "More" drop-down when in a message to select "Create a document". I don't know of any fixes for the rest of the issues off-hand, but this should help with this one. Mike McBurney Network Administrator

mwalters1984
mwalters1984

I've had a case open for nearly 30 days with no resolution in sight. Back with my other company/exchange, the resources available were immense, this would've been solved in no time. WORKFLOW. Canned/cookie cutter approval routing and feedback. PLEASE. I never thought I would miss Sharepoint.

The Management consultant
The Management consultant

There is a lot to do here.This is probably to do with development and customer adoption issues not helped with privacy of data issues.whats next? Mozilla Thunderbird online?Video conferencing through G voice network?Presentation sharing for meetings? Multimedia and storage?The end game? A complete virtual desktop?Sun has already done this on the server?

ithelpdesk
ithelpdesk

you mentioned: "So why isn???t there an option to turn an email thread into a Docs document?" This has actually been possible for more than a year by enabling the lab called 'Create a document' Wholeheartedly support the rest of the missing-in-action list in your article though....

winstonleong
winstonleong

I have a few docs created using the MS Office with diagrams (shapes and arrows). When I uploaded (imported) the docs onto GDocs, the diagrams went missing. Similarly, the images were also gone. Probably, GDocs is mainly for users to create very basic (simple) doc without any images or advanced (complex) features. In fact, I have experienced quite a number of other issues with GApps. Some are still unresolved. Just my personal opinion as a user...

dexter_2k1
dexter_2k1

My only concern is about the management of images in Google Docs. It's a real nightmare

Ziege19
Ziege19

You can save your email conversations to google docs by opening the thread, hitting the print icon, and then print to Google Cloud Print. Then instead of sending to a printer, use the option to save as a google docs PDF. If PDF doesn't suit your purposes, you can open the PDF and export to google docs.

Mark W. Kaelin
Mark W. Kaelin

It's your turn to sound off. What Google Docs features are missing, underwhelming, or in need of an upgrade? Are these missing features what compel you to keep a copy of Microsoft Office handy?

Mark W. Kaelin
Mark W. Kaelin

Neither I nor any contributor have any knowledge of what will be advertised on TechRepublic - EVER! Do you mean to say that you are perfectly happy with Google Apps? Do you not have any features that you wish were included?

Jay Garmon
Jay Garmon

Anybody who writes for a living -- and everybody who publishing anything -- will recognize the need for diacritical marks. Is that one space, or two. A nonbreaking space, or standard. Soft return or hard return? This goes double for those of us that publish online and see our work mangled as soon as convert it. It can't be hard to display diacriticals, especially since all of them have HTML or ASCII-safe counterparts.

Ziege19
Ziege19

Yes, printing to PDF is so tedious and weird with having to use THREE mouse clicks. The horror.

rhonin
rhonin

Awesome and thx!