Review: Google Drive leads in features, lags in ease-of-use

Google Docs, Sheets, and Slides comprise the most powerful online productivity suite, but significant shortcomings remain

This is the third in a series of three reviews covering the major online office productivity apps: Microsoft Office Online (Word Online, Excel Online, and PowerPoint Online), Apple iWork for iCloud (Pages, Numbers, and Keynote for iCloud), and in this article, Google Drive (with Docs, Sheets, and Slides) aka Google Docs and Google Apps.

It's hard to believe that Google suffers even worse branding confusion than Microsoft, but in this case it's true. Depending on where (and when) you look, Google Drive is a cloud file storage system or a set of apps -- word processor, spreadsheet, presentation manager -- along with the cloud storage. Google Docs used to be the generic name for all the productivity apps, but now it most commonly refers to the word processor only. And whereas Google Apps used to be the preferred name for the three apps, now it looks like Google Drive is taking on that role. In this review, I'll use Google apps (note the lowercase "a") to refer to Google Docs (the word processor), Sheets, and Slides.

[ Also on reviewed on InfoWorld: Apple's iWork for iCloud is elegant but limited | Office Online is great for Word and Excel, not PowerPoint | InfoWorld dishes on must-have iPad office apps, essential Android productivity apps, and road-warrior standbys. Start downloading! | Get the latest insight on the tech news that matters from InfoWorld's Tech Watch blog. ]

All of the Google apps run under Internet Explorer, Firefox, Safari, and of course Google Chrome, and all are free for personal use. You'll need a Google account, which brings along 15GB of free Google storage (additional storage is $24 per year for 100GB). Be sure to install the free Google Drive software for Windows or the Mac. Corporate users should sign up for Google Apps for Business, which costs $50 per user per year (or $100 per user per year if you want the security and interconnection capabilities built into Vault). Google Apps for Education and Google Apps for Nonprofits are free.

If you use Chrome, you have multiple ways into Google Drive, but anybody with a browser can venture to and get to work. If you click the Create button in the upper-left corner, Google Drive asks if you want to create a Document, Presentation, Spreadsheet, Form, or Drawing. Your selection will lead you into the appropriate app. (See Figure 1.)

Digging into Drive
Google is the pioneer in free online office productivity. Google Docs traces its roots to Writely, one of the first online word processors, which appeared in 2005. Google started its own online spreadsheet program, Google Lab Spreadsheets, in 2006, and Google Slides joined in 2007. Google started renting out cloud storage in 2010, tying the apps into the storage. (By contrast, Microsoft's Office Web Apps arrived in 2010 and Apple's iWork for iCloud appeared in 2013.) By and large, the Google apps haven't been on the same hectic and high-profile feature upgrade schedule as Office Online and iWork for iCloud.

Whereas Apple has built a nearly impenetrable wall around its iWork for iCloud apps and makes you jump through several iCloud hoops to get data into and out of the applications, Microsoft OneDrive and Google Drive both play nicely with Windows. Like OneDrive, Google Drive integrates with Windows Explorer/File Explorer through a downloadable client. To make life easier, you should install the Google Drive client on your Windows PC (or Mac) and work through the native file system just as you would with any other files.

InfoWorld Scorecard
File management and printing (10.0%)
Compatibility (20.0%)
Features (35.0%)
Value (10.0%)
Ease of use (25.0%)
Overall Score (100%)
Google Drive 9.0 6.0 8.0 7.0 7.0 7.4
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