August 20th, 2007
You might argue that Word Processing was the spark which started the information age — that is, the ability to write, store, and edit documents in a digital format. As students, we all know that editing and creating Word documents and Excel spreadsheets is the most incredibly boring task available to mankind, but they have integrated themselves permanently into our lives.
Not that this is a necessarily bad thing, Word and Excel are pretty powerful tools, they certainly beat handwriting. Speaking of which, remember in 3rd grade how they taught us how to write in cursive? And then WE NEVER DID IT AGAIN. But I digress.
In the past, to get a document or spreadsheet to someone, you’d have to attach it in an email. How gauche. Alternatively, you could stick it on a USB drive and give it to a friend, only to find later that the USB drive mysteriously vanished. In both of these cases, the culprit leading to the loss of information is the infamous second step. If you could make your work readily available to others, or collaborators, who can work on it over the Internet, editing such documents might become a little less painful.
And this, dear readers, is where Google swoops in to save the day, with Google Docs & Spreadsheets (GDS). Another free Google service, which requires an existing Google or Gmail account, also free. Once that’s set up, point your web browser (hopefully Firefox) to http://docs.google.com to start. Once you’re set up, you can create your own documents and spreadsheets, which you can then export to MS Word, Excel, PDF, and other formats, for free. Many of the functions of popular Word processors and Spreadsheet editors are available, like formatting, charts, functions, etc. The documents are stored on Google’s servers, so you can access them anywhere you have an Internet connection, which is practically anywhere on campus.
So what? Where GDS really shines is in its collaborative abilities. You’ll notice that there are two tabs at the top of each document editing window. One says “Share,” the other “Publish.” If you click on the “Share” tab, you’ll be directed to a screen where you can invite, via email, people who can come in and edit your documents. Changes are tracked, and you’ll see who the last person to edit the document you’re working on when you login to GDS. One thing to remember — it’s a lot easier for collaborators to edit your document if they already have Gmail or Google Accounts. Just keep that in mind.
In fact, the draft of this blog post was written in GDS for pre-approval by the bossman before I put it into WordPress. Booya!