Using Google Drive
September 11, 2014
Google Drive, formerly Google Docs, not to be confused with Google Self-Driving cars, has grown over the years to be a rather attractive alternative to traditional desktop-oriented productivity tools. Is it on par with the Microsoft Office suite? Does it stack up against LibreOffice, the popular open source alternative? Let’s take a look…
I’m no stranger to Microsoft Office. My entire career has been spent in an office setting and MS Office Professional has been commonplace. At home, I often use Remote Desktop to access my work system simply to have access to Microsoft Word or Excel, which are the two show horses of the Office suite.
I’ve tried LibreOffice, a fork of OpenOffice, as it comes pre-installed on my distribution of choice at home (Linux Mint – check it out!). I don’t use it very often, and turn instead to Google’s offering. There was simply something lacking with LibreOffice. It may have been something as simple as the color scheme or button layout. These days, when I’m working in an Office program, I often long for some of the features that Google Drive offers.
While not particularly new, its a subtlety that I miss when working with a desktop application.
When Google first announced Google Wave, a now defunct collaborative platform, I was totally on board. it did everything which, funny enough, was one of the largest complaints about it. For those who didn’t have the pleasure, it was a platform that combined text editing, comment threads, image and file uploads, and even embedded web games into a single screen. Users collaborating on the “Wave” could add their own content, edit others’ content (if permitted), and keep a running dialog of comments. One of the bread & butter features, in my eyes, was the ability to rewind and playback the series of events that were done, one by one, from the first piece of content written to the last. The idea was that if you were out of the Wave for a period of time while the other collaborators were making changes, you wouldn’t feel completely lost the next time you visited. You could step back to what the Wave looked like the last time you were on it and review each step to the present. It was pretty creative.
Fast forward a few months after Google announced that Google Wave would be decommissioned. Rumor had it that some of the intuitive, collaborative aspects of the Wave platform might resurface inside Google Docs. One of the most notable features was the ability to have multiple editors make changes that are visible in real-time to anyone with access. A handy chat feature was added as well.
See Google’s cutesy depiction of this feature, and many others, that have been added.
This real time support exists in both Documents and Spreadsheets.
Another addition to the Google Drive feature list is the ability to have more restrictive collaborators. Originally, a document could be shared with another user in a way that would allow them to make changes. But what if you don’t want your Aunt Sally to make changes to your resumé? Well, let’s give her Read Only permissions. But what if your Aunt Sally noticed some poor sentence structure or typos within your About Me section? What’s a poor gal to do?! Welcome to Commenting! A new permission level was added to allow Aunt Sally the ability to make context-sensitive comments along the margins.
As shown above, the comment is shown inline with a stream of replies made by users and eventually can be marked as Resolved once the conversation has come to an end.
Commenting – Part Deux
A more recent addition to Docs, Sheets, and Slides that essentially builds upon the existing Commenting framework previously mentioned is the ability to suggest changes. For those familiar with MS Office, this is very similar to the “Track Changes” feature.
Essentially, a collaborator with Commenting (or Editing) permissions can make changes inline within the document, showing their suggested change. The owner of the document can then review all the suggested changes, prominently displaying the old and new content side-by-side, and approve or reject each individual change as they see fit.
A feature that I’ve used for a few DIY technical projects, including one Spreadsheet for budgeting & financial peace of mind and another for keeping track of vehicles maintenance schedule write custom code to manipulate the content of the file.
According to the documentation, Scripts can be added to both Spreadsheet and Documents; however, my familiarity with the latter is limited to what others have done. If this is a topic you would like to know more about, let us know @GeekHive and the Geeks will be happy to address it in further detail.
As far as Spreadsheets are concerned, it’s as simple as invoking the menu commands & permissions necessary to inject a new script file. The script can be used to allow for custom in-cell functions, such as a handy ImportBankingStatement() function used by my budgeting spreadsheet to read in a CSV file from a url, parse all debits & credits and arrange them in a way that allows me to see whether I can afford that slice of pizza for lunch.
var strFile = "http://filehosting/filename.csv"; var objFile = UrlFetchApp.fetch(strFile); var strCSVData = objFile.getContentText();
They can also be used to perform more time- or action-sensitive tasks. Leveraging the same UrlFetchApp.fetch() pattern, I’ve written a function which will retrieve my car’s latest mileage from a pastebin.com entry. As shown in the image below, that script is set to trigger every morning, just after midnight, essentially polling to see if I’ve uploaded a new value and keeping my spreadsheet up to date.
In theory, additional scripting logic could be added to send email notifications if the latest mileage entry exceeds the recommendation from my last oil change. In short, these scripts give you almost limitless power – use it wisely1!
Given all of these great features, is Microsoft Office on the chopping block? Not likely. Business professionals will always have standards and a Microsoft-oriented company might be inclined to stick with what they know. However, the right tool should be used for the task at hand. What do you think about Google Drive? Is it your personal, or professional, go-to productivity suite? Let us know @GeekHive!
Google Drive is a trademark of Google Inc. Use of this trademark is subject to Google Permissions.
1 But creatively!
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