If you collaborate with other users in Microsoft Office documents but you don’t use Microsoft Office, what are your options? Obviously you could go the LibreOffice route. The open source office suite does a great job handling Microsoft Office track changes. Or you could opt for a proprietary solution with WPS Office.

But what if your primary tool for working with documents is Google Docs? It’s been regularly documented that Google Docs doesn’t play well with track changes (outside of it’s own Suggesting mode).

That’s changed. Somewhere, along the way, Google enabled the interoperability with track changes.

And editors around the world rejoiced.

Hold up a minute, there’s a catch. If you upload a Microsoft Office document, you’ll first find out that without a plugin you won’t be opening either those old school .doc files or the new-school .docx files. Even if you do get them open (with the help of third-party software), there’s little chance the track changes will actually work as expected.

Making it work

So how do you bring this much-needed feature to light in Google Docs? Actually it’s quite simple. In order to make use of track changes in Google Docs, your document must be uploaded in the Open Document format. That means .odt (text) or .ods (spreadsheets). The good news is that Microsoft Office can save as ODF files, so open the .docx (or .xlsx) file in LibreOffice and save it as an .odt (or .odc) file. Once your document is in the compatible format, you can then upload it to Google Docs and track changes will appear as you would expect (Figure A).

Figure A

With the document open, you can go through the track changes doing the usual resolving or dismissing. I would recommend immediately switching the mode from Editing to Suggesting, so any changes you make beyond what is found within track changes will be recorded as well (Figure B).

Figure B

With the mode set to Suggesting, you can now start working with the document making your own edits with Google’s version of track changes enabled. Once you’ve taken care of your edits, download the file from Google Docs (in either .odt or .docx format) and send the file back to your collaborator. Should the file return to you with more track changes, you’ll have to go through the process of opening the Microsoft Office file in LibreOffice, saving it as an .odt file, and uploading it to Google Docs.


If you don’t want to bother with the hassle of using LibreOffice, you can always ask your collaborator to send you an .odt file.

Or, you can simply both work in Google Docs.

Or, you can skip Google Docs all together and work in LibreOffice. However, that option negates the cloud, which is very likely the reason you use Google Docs in the first place, so you have access to your documents from anywhere). So, .odt to Google Docs it is.