Inspired by a weird lack of plain text editing, we set out last week to shake out at least five crucial features Google Docs needs to implement. Not things like “Complete Microsoft Office compatibility” or “Better pivot table features than Excel” - but things that give Google Docs just enough features, while keeping it web-based and relatively simple.
So we submitted our five, and we asked our readers for their own contributions. The good news: you had quite a few worthy additions. The bad news: you actually negated one of our original five. I claimed that it would be nice to be able to click one link to turn a Gmail into a Docs document, rather than copy-and-paste. Turns out there is a Labs feature in Gmail for doing just that - Apps users, however, may have to ask their administrator to allow the features. But let us submit that Labs features aren’t exactly ready-when-you-are features. Ahem.
Now, onto five more things readers, Google+ commenters, and Twitter respondents would like to see added into Docs.
1. A real solution to right-click copying
Select some text in a document, or a few cells in a spreadsheet. Right-click on that selection. You’ll see an obviously Google-crafted drop-down menu, with cut, copy, paste, and a few formatting tools. Select an option and, well, it depends. On a Chromebook, or in certain Chrome browser versions, choosing copy or paste actually seems to copy and paste text, inside or outside the system. But in many other browsers, you’ll get a prompt from Google that directly copying and pasting from the clipboard isn’t supported, and you’ll only be able to copy and paste inside the same document, or to Docs’ web clipboard. You’re asked to use the standard Ctrl/Command+C and Ctrl/Command+V keyboard shortcuts. That’s not a problem for some, but many users expect to right-click.
2. Leader tabs
I am not great at Word/Docs page formatting. In fact, I will go to great lengths to avoid messing with margins, to the point of writing documents in raw XML, if necessary. But leader tabs are sometimes necessary, and as Jim noted on our original post, they’re actually designed for fussy minimalists like me: you simply use text to define the proper widths of text you’re writing.
3. Default layouts, not templates
As Mark Poole put it in a Google+ discussion:
I'd like a default page layout setting. Not a template method but a global set of page layout defaults
Google Docs has templates, and even custom text and header styling, but there’s no way to create a document and choose a background color, text color and font, and other design elements on the fly. Template choosing can be shoved into a desktop app like Office and not feel too heavy, but having to search out a template in Docs, then create a new document from it, then wipe out all the text and rename the document from its “Copy of Template X” name—it’s nobody’s idea of productivity.
4. Access to Google’s own Web Fonts
Quoting Olivier Amrein from Google+:
Fonts: google has nice web fonts, why not offer them in the docs as well?
Google Web Fonts are “hundreds of free, open-source fonts, optimized for the web.” Sounds great! In Docs, though, you’re limited to just under 20 fonts. They’re not bad, and none of them are too goofy, but letting those with a mind for design work out their own font choices would be very neat, and a big step forward toward making beautiful documents.
5. Improved embedding
Google, if you’re reading, I’m sorry to be so generic here. But everyone seems to have their own specific, but generally agreed-upon problems with documents that have images, graphs, tables, and spreadsheets embedded in them: they’re rough. Specifically, exporting to other formats is a gamble with roughly 8% house odds. And images that don’t make it over, either on export or copy/paste, don’t fail gracefully, but leave in their place headaches that need cleaning up. Adding menu options isn’t always an option, but if it’s a universal problem when it comes to multimedia documents, a way to “Export without images,” or to create some kind of “Clean copy,” would be quite nice.
As always, we welcome your additions to our list of (almost) 10 things.
Kevin Purdy is a freelance writer, a former editor at Lifehacker.com, and the author of The Complete Android Guide.