I’ve only recently started to use the free Google Docs software applications to make a budget and work collaboratively on documents, and so far I’m impressed. In the beginning when I tested the Google Spreadsheets program I noticed a slight lag using the tabs and more advanced features, but the most recent incarnation is practically perfect.
The Documents program may lack the fonts of the commercial programs, and it takes a bit of work to get important documents looking professional, but it has all the most commonly used features as Microsoft Word, and should be more than adequate for most people.
I’ve only tried the Presentation program once but I’d have to say that it’s somewhat basic and limited in terms of themes, animations, transitions, interactivity and inserting things like videos, but it works and it’s free.
One of the best features of Google Docs is that you can import files from most commercial programs, and export the files in a number of different formats. Not everything works perfectly in the translation, but it does make your documents portable without using e-mail or USB drives. Also, there’s only the one version of each file, which is a relief for people who create complex documents that require constant revisions. If your hard drive crashes or you spill water on your laptop it doesn’t mater — your files will remain safe and sound on Google’s servers.
As well as free productivity software, Google offers free webmail with up to 2 GB of storage, free photo archiving and editing with Picasa, and a Calendar application that is actually pretty solid. Add in the world’s most powerful search engine and Google Maps, and everyone has access to in incredibly powerful suite of applications for exactly zero dollars. All you have to do is go to Google Mail ( www.gmail.com ) and open your account.
By way of comparison the cheapest home and student version of Microsoft Office is about $180, while Corel WordPerfect Office X3 is about $120.
Obviously these programs are a lot more powerful than what Google offers, and come with additional programs you might find useful, like Microsoft’s Entourage or Corel’s video and photo editing software. If you’re printing labels or envelopes, Google Docs can’t really help you.
But if you don’t need Entourage, and have other software for videos and photos, you can save yourself a lot of money by turning your life over to Google’s free applications.
As a matter of fact, there’s a lot of free software out there that can do just about everything. There are also free operating systems, if you’re not adverse to using Linux — which probably more than 10 million people are not.