OCT 21, 2021 / Google

Google ups its Office game

In the productivity applications space, there are a few standards that have emerged over decades, largely focused around the most popular applications within a given field. While you can use many image editing apps, Adobe’s Photoshop is so much the standard that it’s effectively a verb in its own right. You don’t just adjust an image — you photoshop it.

In the office documents and productivity space, it’s Microsoft’s Office suite of Word, Excel and Powerpoint that rules the roost, even though there are other approaches you can take.

Microsoft hasn’t quite managed the Photoshop trick of having its applications become verbs, but they’re still very much the standard if you’re talking word processing, spreadsheets or presentations.

Even within the Mac space, where Apple has its own Pages, Numbers and Keynote applications, Microsoft’s Office is still seen as the “standard”, even as the company itself has shifted more from selling a numbered version of MS Office to the subscription Office 365 service.

So if Office is the standard, is there a point in competing any more? Google certainly seems to think so.

For years now, Google’s tried to overcome the stranglehold Microsoft Office has on most people’s productivity usage with its own, free-to-use GDocs suite.

There’s always been one very simple problem, however. While GDocs is a reasonable application for everyday users, it’s not always been the best option if you’re working with a file that was originally produced in Microsoft Word, Excel or Powerpoint. Typically they would open, but the formatting might be out of whack, and exporting them back out to the MS Office formats was often an additional layer of work and formatting worries.

Google recently announced that it’s in the process of seriously enhancing its compatibility with the standard Microsoft Office file formats. So if you’re sharing a file to somebody who doesn’t have Office, or you’ve had a file sent to you and you don’t have Office yourself, there should be fewer issues openly and safely editing them.

Google will soon natively support .doc, .docx and .dot format files for Microsoft Word, .xls, .xlsx, .xlsm and .xlt files for Microsoft Excel and .ppt, .pptx, .pps and .pot files for Microsoft Powerpoint natively within the Google Docs, Google Sheets and Google Slides, which should cover the vast majority of the file formats you’re likely to be sent.

Google still largely relies on online architecture for its Google Suite of Office apps, which does make it easier to collaborate in real time, but has the obvious limitation that you’re generally required to have a working internet connection to edit or work on files. You’re also required to have a working Google login, although if you’ve got a gmail account already, you’re covered there anyway.

You can take documents “offline” for editing purposes, but it’s a somewhat convoluted affair, because in the Google world, you’re pretty much expected to always be online. It’s free to use otherwise, although as with the rest of Google’s “free” apps, you’re paying in terms of the data you put into each document being tracked by Google for its own information-gathering purposes.

As an online-service, Google could switch on the full compatibility features with not much more than the tap of a keyboard, but it’s instead going to roll out the new functionality to a small set of users to ensure that it’s got compatibility right, before making them more widely available from May 2019.

alt here
Alex Kidman
Tech Journalist