Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Next for Google Docs: offline support, better presentations


L to R - Jeff, DJ, Scott, and Teresa, with Ronald on video cameraa

By Athima Chansanchai

Rather than get weighed down by the usual rigmarole of a big Q&A to-do, five members of the Google Docs team went on Reddit recently and did an "Ask Me Anything" with users, who bombarded them with questions about the app, but also about working at Google, the company's master plan and how being Google employees makes them very date-able.a

But first, the news about what's coming down the pike for Google Docs, the Word-friendly suite of programs in the cloud that have been increasingly tailored to be more collaborative-friendly, more mobile-friendly and more lithe as it evolves. Here are the highlights:a

Introducing offline support so you can continue to work without having to be online Making Google spreadsheets friendly to the power user, recently launching pivot tables and autofilter Native editing on an improved Android app (thanks Business Insider for the sharp eye on that one!) Better presentations through upgrades to the preso editor  Improvements to page numbers, file organization and formatting Cloud print beyond Chrome OS Preview for .txt files Working on: custom styles ("#1 missing feature in documents right now"); making Docs that are designed just for the screen, not for printing; tablet-friendly adjustments; tighter Blogger integration

The Googlers who stepped into the fire to answer questions included three product managers (Scott Johnston aka happyinwater, Jeff Harris aka jeffsharris and Ronald Ho aka ronaldho), an engineer (DJ Lee aka ergobibliophile) and community manager Teresa Wu (aka teresawu). All but Ho, who works out of the Mountain View, Ca. headquarters, are based in New York.a

Harris elaborated on the offline support, which will roll out later this summer:a

We used to have offline with Google Gears, but it became pretty clear that plugins weren't the right approach. We've been reimplementing offline using HTML5 standards like AppCache, File API, and IndexDB. We're some of the first webapps that are really putting those standards to the test, so it's taken a while to iron out the kinks.a

But the long term direction is if you access a Doc URL while offline, it should open the local copy of the doc and let you edit. When you go online all your edits get synced in the background. You should also be able to see a list of your docs while offline.We'll need to work through all the tricky problems with how to merge conflicting edits. It's fun stuff.a

From the users, like epiphy, who flooded the session, it seems Google Docs is an extremely useful, though frustrating tool:a

I work at an animation studio where we use Google docs spreadsheets to mark down when certain things have been completed. It has become a major part of our workflow. I was the one who suggested we use google docs instead of writing down checkmarks on a piece of paper we pass around!One of the features I wish you guys had was the ability to add an image or file or hyperlink as a comment in spreadsheets the same way you can add text as a comment. This would allow us to upload current renders or edits to each of the various tasks at hand. Can't think of anything else. Google docs is responsible for many commercials being released on time and on budget :) Thanks!a

Some, like user sodypop, were effusive in their praise of Docs:a

I just wanted to let you all know how much Google Docs has helped improve the lives of hundreds of redditors, literally. I've been using a calendar, a spreadsheet, and apps scripts to help me manage a subreddit for helping people quit smoking. Currently I have a script that pulls all of the calendar entries into a spreadsheet, each entry being a username added on the date they quit smoking. The spreadsheet then calculates the number of days since each user quit, then an additional script runs to create a subreddit CSS stylesheet which assigns an icon next to each user signifying the number of weeks or months that since they quit.The only problem I've had is with the script exceeding the 5 minute timeout, and the occasional "Service error: DocsList" which is probably my fault for crummy script design. The combination of calendar, spreadsheet, and scripting capabilities has simplified an otherwise tedious chore of updating about 500 user icons on a daily basis. High fives to all of you!a

But some, like user 93829020, have written it off completely:a

Google Docs sucks so hard, I really hate it. I set up a site. I wanted to allow anyone to post docs and create docs. Also the docs should be shared with everyone else automatically who has an account. Those docs should always show up to everyone the first time they sign in. The equivalent to a shared folder. Why can't I do this? ... It's just not going to meet my needs.a

And still other users couldn't help themselves and asked all about if Google is hiring, how much money the team made, what they were having for lunch and if the fetching Wu was available, dating-wise. Now you can see why some chat Q&As are moderated.a

More stories:a

Coming soon: edit Google Docs on your iPad & Android mobile devices Plug-in syncs Microsoft Office with Google Docs Forget Groups, Google says. Use Docs or Sites.

Check out Technolog on Facebook, and on Twitter, follow Athima Chansanchai, who is consistently on Google Docs for one thing or another.a

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