Keeping the Office in Sync with Google Docs

Google Docs - Folder - New FolderI've been a longtime user of Google Docs (and [wikipop]Writely[/wikipop] before it), mainly because I hate sitting through the three agonizing minutes of "font menu optimization" before Microsoft Word will finally launch (this is on my respectably equipped Mac Pro). Since my MLA-compliant college paper-writing days, I haven't really needed the advanced editing features of Word, so I'm more than happy to settle for the simplicity of the Google Docs word processor. Since I started working in an office, I've become more and more appreciative of the collaborative features of Google Docs as well. Sharing a document with a co-worker is a one-click affair. Once the document is shared, both of you can edit it at any time without having to do any syncing or change-tracking or cross-emailing. Revision tracking is built in, so if one of your cherished sentences was deleted by a co-author, you can always turn back the clock and retrieve it. Better still, the same conveniences apply to presentations and spreadsheets, both of which often need to be edited by multiple people. Many offices use a shared server for documents. This allows for collaboration, but doesn't allow for simultaneous editing or the same level of revision tracking (outside of Word's more one-dimensional change-tracking feature). And to further ease the transition from existing systems, Google has made it easy to save documents out to the respective Microsoft formats (.doc, .xls, .ppt).

Only a couple of key features have until now kept me from really putting Google Docs to use in my daily workflow at the office, both of which features have recently appeared as if by magic and totally without fanfare in Docs, in typical Google fashion. The first and vastly more important feature is folder sharing. In order to replace the typical document server setup that many offices have, there needs to be a way for multiple people to collaborate not only on individual documents, but also on the organization of those documents. Until now, individual documents could be shared, but you were responsible for organizing them yourself. You could create personal folders and put shared documents in them, but not synchronize your folders with others. Now, with shared folders, the sharing structure of Google Docs is just like a typical server.

The one other thing that keeps many offices from adopting this or any other third-party server technology in their workflow is a (legitimate) fear of entrusting information to an outside service. If whatever service you're using goes down, will you lose access to your precious data? There's never a perfect solution to this problem, but Google Docs did recently add a feature to alleviate these concerns, which is the ability to export all of your documents en masse in a zip file. This at least makes regular backups relatively easy.