Zit Seng's Blog

A Singaporean's technology and lifestyle blog

Collaborating with Google Drive

I’m not new to Google Drive. I’ve used Google Docs previously. It’s the predecessor to Google Drive. One of the greatest features touted of Google Docs then, and the thing that most attracted me to the platform then, was their collaborative editing feature. Imagine when you have to work with a team to write a document. Not only can everyone access the document at the same time, but everyone can also instantly and simultaneously make changes.

One single copy of the document in the cloud, multiple access, multiple edits, and Google Docs (now Google Drive) will keep track and sanely apply all the changes. It’s a godsend to working collaboratively.

Well, I tried to use Google Docs back then. The collaborative editing features were great. Unfortunately, there were many other features lacking. There were plenty of annoyances with the user experience too.

For example, my style of delimiting paragraphs of text is to have a blank line between them. By default, Google Docs doesn’t put a blank line between paragraphs. Sure, a simple solution is to type an extra “ENTER” to get that empty line. Or, you could edit the style of the paragraph of text. But, you could not set this as a default for the document. It is really so dumb. I did some search and found that this was possible in the past, but at some point Google made that not work.

Ultimately, there were enough show-stoppers. I tried to make it work. But in the end, I gave up.

Recently, I had another occasion needing to work collaboratively on a document. It is needed in a hurry, schedule was tight, and the usual way of bouncing Microsoft Word document back and forth just wouldn’t work. Google Docs has become Google Drive. Hopefully, things have improved greatly. So, we decided to give Google Drive another shot.

I’m glad to report, things seem to be looking up. My gripe with the default paragraphing format has been fixed. I can now set document default styles. In fact, I was pleasantly surprised by the decent drawing tools, good enough to actually draw some diagrams that I needed.

I’m not sure if Google Drive will work for complex documents, particularly those with complicated styling. Or those with complex multi-level numbering  (e.g. sections, chapters, etc). There are still many things that could do with improvement.

But at least, for a normal document with a couple of styling requirements, images, and drawings, Google Drive seems to be working very well. Most importantly, I think, is the benefit of being able to collaboratively edit the document with other people.

Update (15 Oct 2012):

I hit the “publish” button a little prematurely. I guess I was so delighted with Google Drive’s collaborative features that I wanted to share about it right away. But as I put the finishing touches to my collaboratively authored document, I picked up a few misfeatures again:

  1. You know WYSIWYG? (What-You-See-Is-What-You-Get) Well, yes, how the document looked on the web is how it actually got printed. That’s fine. However, what I see is not what you see. Yup. For some strange reason, it just looked different on my colleague’s computer from how it looked on mine. The total page count was different. His document ended with one blank page, mine didn’t. This is really very weird.
  2. I thought I’d include page numbers in the footer. It seems, once page numbering is added, it absolutely has to start from page one. But page one is my cover page, which not only did I not want the page number to appear, I also wanted the numbering to only start from the second page! This is apparently not fixable.

I think these are still not show stoppers for simple documents. However, definitely there are still more things that Google has to work on to get Google Drive ready.

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