Log in

No account? Create an account
Google Docs takes a step backwards - Arvind Narayanan's journal [entries|archive|friends|userinfo]

Google Docs takes a step backwards [Jul. 14th, 2010|12:54 am]
Arvind Narayanan
[Tags|, , , , , ]

Google Docs used to be a fantastic tool for creating one-off web pages. And now it's gone.

By which I mean, replaced by a new interface that operates under a different paradigm, mimicking a traditional word processor meant to create pages for printing. Printing.

Let me show you how ridiculously convenient the old Google Docs was as a WYSIWYG editor. Project Luther is one of the pages I used it for. Click on that real quick and then come back. Here's what I see (as the owner of that document) when I go to that page:

It defaults to edit mode. How freaking awesome is that?

The auto-edit-mode feature is still there, but is now pointless, because I find the new interface useless for editing web pages. You can't look at the HTML anymore. They took away all the paste-in-your-own-CSS hotness. And replaced it with retarded crap like page breaks — page breaks — and adjusting left and right margins with a slider.

Fortunately, docs you already own show up with the old editing interface. For now. So I'm going to create new documents by making copies of old documents (which also show up with the old interface) for as long as that keeps working.

But more importantly, if this is how Google thinks they're going to take on Microsoft Office, they're doing it exactly wrong. What they have now is merely a seriously inferior version of MS Word, instead of a truly differentiated, disruptive product.

[User Picture]From: haran
2010-07-14 08:48 am (UTC)
I disagree. I think your use case is every different from what other people may use Google Docs for.

We've been using it at work collaborate on requirements/specs/todo lists. Basically a replacement for having to keep editing/attaching MS Word docs and sending it around as emails to everyone. And the new changes make this easier - especially for people who are coming from a background of putting anything textual into a .doc file.

Simple things like making inline comments is much more pleasant and convenient now.

Your use case for publishing one-off web pages may not be the one that Google Docs is targeting.
(Reply) (Thread)
[User Picture]From: arvindn
2010-07-14 08:54 am (UTC)
Interesting. Personally I use Dropbox + MS Word for that purpose, but then if you add in a simultaneous editing requirement I can see how that might not work very well.

Thanks for the comment!
(Reply) (Parent) (Thread)
From: ext_239208
2010-07-14 11:57 am (UTC)

Tried Google Sites

What you describe sounds a lot like Google Sites, and Google Docs used to be quite redundant with it. Have you tried that?
(Reply) (Thread)
[User Picture]From: arvindn
2010-07-14 06:58 pm (UTC)

Re: Tried Google Sites

Thanks. I hadn't heard of it, just checked it out. Seems useful, the only missing thing is the ability to edit CSS.
(Reply) (Parent) (Thread)
From: ednortonengineeringsociety.blogspot.com
2010-07-14 01:49 pm (UTC)

Have you tried Google Sites?

Just curious if you've tried Google Sites for the same type of functionality.

I DO use Google Docs as a replacement for Office, and recently used it to author a book report for school and turn it in as a PDF.
(Reply) (Thread)
[User Picture]From: arvindn
2010-07-14 07:00 pm (UTC)

Re: Have you tried Google Sites?

Thanks. I hadn't heard of Google sites, just checked it out. Seems useful, the only missing thing is the ability to edit CSS.

If you're using it to author a book report why wouldn't you just use Word? Is it because of the cost?
(Reply) (Parent) (Thread)
From: (Anonymous)
2010-07-15 02:41 pm (UTC)

Re: Have you tried Google Sites?

Not just cost, but universal access (from work, where I work on LOTS of VM images via remote access, some on different networks that don't have access to the same shares), from home (multiple machines may access it from there, too), on the road, etc. So it's both a "sky drive" combined with the app itself, where I don't have to install Word (or Excel, or whatever) on multiple machines, and I don't have to worry about where my data is. It is not uncommon for me to touch 10-20 "machines" (counting VM images) in a day. I use Google Docs for taking notes, too, and so I can get to my notes no matter where I am and what I am logged into.

Per the CSS thing, since you can edit HTML directly at least you should be able to put in style tags and point to style sheets on a CDN server, I would think (haven't tried it).
(Reply) (Parent) (Thread)
[User Picture]From: arvindn
2010-07-15 11:35 pm (UTC)

Re: Have you tried Google Sites?

Nope, can't have style tags in the HTML either. Apparently they are "dangerous." (Really.)
(Reply) (Parent) (Thread)
From: ednortonengineeringsociety.blogspot.com
2010-07-15 02:43 pm (UTC)

Re: Have you tried Google Sites?

Oh, and that last anonymous comment on this thread was from me. Forgot to log in with OpenId. :o)
(Reply) (Parent) (Thread)
[User Picture]From: theswede
2010-07-14 02:25 pm (UTC)
It's very hard to be disruptive on basic office suite functionality. Microsoft tried it on the much maligned Office 2007 (which most companies I co-operate with have quietly ignored), and making a marvelous HTML editor isn't disruptive either, really. On the office front, that is.

As you note though, it *is* disruptive on the "quick and dirty web site" front. With a little luck (and thought from Google) that will become its own niche. One which they will, if they pounce on it, pretty much own. Although with all blogs and journals available today, I don't know how much a market that has, really.
(Reply) (Thread)
From: dannyman.toldme.com
2010-07-14 03:04 pm (UTC)
I use Docs as an alternative to Ms Word, so a "print centric" thing works for me.

That said, since they still offer the old interface on your Old Docs, they could just have two different Doc types: web pages versus paged documents.

I DO like the ability to edit HTML directly for sure.
(Reply) (Thread)
From: ext_239487
2010-07-17 10:26 am (UTC)

old version

You can still use the old version. From the google site:

"You can continue to create documents in the older version, for now, by opting out of the new version. Simply go to your Google Docs Settings page, click the Editing tab, and deselect the option labeled "Create new text documents using the latest version of the document editor.""
(Reply) (Thread)
[User Picture]From: arvindn
2010-07-17 07:47 pm (UTC)

Re: old version

I missed that entirely!! I do seem to remember checking the settings and not finding it. Thanks.
(Reply) (Parent) (Thread)
From: (Anonymous)
2010-07-17 02:17 pm (UTC)

Main drawback to the Cloud in my opinion

Yeah, that's the problem with relying on other people's web apps: the owner can change how it works overnight and you have no recourse.

At least with a desktop app you would still have the old version, and you can vote with your wallet. But Google? Good luck with that.
(Reply) (Thread)
[User Picture]From: arvindn
2010-07-17 09:40 pm (UTC)

Re: Main drawback to the Cloud in my opinion

Sure, yeah, web apps have drawbacks, no question about that. Personally I find that the benefits overwhelm the drawbacks.

But I disagree that free vs paid is a key difference between web and desktop. There are plenty of web apps I pay for, including some Google services.

Edited at 2010-07-17 09:41 pm (UTC)
(Reply) (Parent) (Thread)