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Google Documents - The Free Microsoft Office Alternative

written by: KateG•edited by: Michele McDonough•updated: 11/17/2009

If you've been searching for online alternatives to replace MS Office, it's worth your time to check into Google Docs. In addition to allowing you the ability to create, manage, and share your documents online, Google Docs has another advantage - it's free!

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    You have, most likely, heard a great deal about Google. You may know some of their products. There is the signature search engine, Blogger (for blogging, of course), and Gmail to keep you up to date with messages from friends and coworkers. A Google product that you may know much about, however, can help you break the chains that Microsoft has on your documents. The product is aptly, if not creatively, named Google Documents.

    Google Documents is a web-based office suite. This means that you can only use it when you are online, so if you have no connectivity then you will have no access to your files. On the upside, you will have access to your files no matter what computer you are on, and you will not have to save your files to your hard drive and use up your storage space.

    The Google Documents suite, at current, runs a little bit light. You will find a word processor, a presentation creator, and a spreadsheet maker. To be honest, the average user won't miss Access, Microsoft's database creation software, enough to make the lack of it in Google Documents any real problem.

    Now let's get down to putting each of the individual programs under a microscope to see if they will do what you need them to do.

    The Word Processor

    The word processor that comes with the Google Documents suite gives you all of the basic formatting choices. You can:

    • Bold/Italics/Underline
    • Highlight/Change text (or background) colors
    • Play with font and size
    • Add bullets and ordered lists

    The things you may miss, if you use them at all, are your macros. If you rely on them heavily, this is not the suite for you. Other then that, you are free and clear.

    The Presentation Maker

    The Presentation Maker has 15 items and 5 slide layout choices. It also offers the capability of adding pictures and video to your presentation. Speaker notes are completely hideable, and you have the full array of text formatting choices. The things you will miss are the slide transitions, but Presentation Maker more than makes up for this by allowing you to save your file as a .ppt or .pdf, or you can publish your presentation to a website provided by Google.

    The Spreadsheet Program

    This is where Google Documents really shines. In addition to being able to calculate your data with ease, you can add gadgets to make your data more visually appealing. These gadgets include the following items.

    • Animated Funnel Charts
    • Time Lines
    • Gauges
    • Gantt Charts
    • Word Clouds
    • Maps
    • Multi-Language Translations
    • Search Engines

    The great thing about this suite is that it is ever-expanding. So, if you're wanting a particular feature, just keep your eyes peeled and it will eventually show up. For the average end-user, whether home, business or school, this suite will do the job. You just might find that there are some cool features in Google Documents that you won't find in MS Office. This suite comes free with every Google account so if you already have Gmail or Blogger, you won't even have to sign up.