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,” 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+.