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

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Google Docs
Google Docs -- the word processor (see Figure 3) -- has the largest selection of features of any online productivity app I've used. It offers an astounding number of open source fonts -- well into the thousands -- although using any but the most common fonts is a two-step process. As in Word Online and iWork for iCloud, the very limited set of paragraph styles can't be changed, but paragraphs can be formatted manually with bullets and spacing. There's full support for find and replace, numbering, footnotes, and headers and footers. You can even insert a table of contents, based on headings, which is far superior to anything in Word Online or Pages for iCloud.

Sharing and collaboration features include color-coded, real-time updates and support for a "comments" column. As with competing online suites, there's no change tracking. But Google Docs (and Sheets) has a rather advanced scripting language, which has given rise to many third-party packages. Neither Word Online nor Pages for iCloud has macro or scripting capabilities.

In the very near future, you will be able to directly crop and manipulate images inside Google Docs. The feature is rolling out even as I type this.

On the downside, tables are rudimentary, fixed in size, and difficult to format. The implementations of text boxes, pictures, and shapes have few options. Pictures can't be overlapped, and there are no watermarks (also true in the competing suites).

Google Sheets
Google Sheets now has the abilities to "flow" text into a following blank cell and to merge cells -- both of which have long been sore spots for Sheets users. There's easy Ctrl-drag for autofill. And you'll find a full suite of functions, good editing tools, and some conditional formatting capabilities.

Multiple filter views can be applied individually by each person viewing a spreadsheet. There's paste transpose, hyperlinks, and cell formatting supported by copious examples. There are no pivot tables or pivot charts, which you'll find in Excel Online, but you can painstakingly duplicate many pivot features, manually, as in Numbers for iCloud.

Unlike the other spreadsheet programs, Google Sheets has full add-on support and a sophisticated script editor, both particularly useful in a spreadsheet environment.

Google apps users have been clamoring for a built-in way to repeat headers across pages. They also want hot links for Google Sheets tables and graphics that are embedded in Google Docs and Slides documents, so changes in the spreadsheet show up in the document or presentation. No, Excel Online and Numbers for iCloud can't do any of that, either.

Google Slides
Google Slides clearly isn't as powerful as Keynote for iCloud, but it's miles ahead of PowerPoint Online.

You'll find good support for text formatting, pictures, and their manipulation (including cropping with cutouts). You can make use of free-form drawing and fills on canvases, plus lots of transitions and animations, and you can embed hyperlinks in everything, including shapes. You can embed audio or video on slides.

Slides even lets collaborators put comments on text or slides. The "view only" setting lets collaborators look at your slides but not change them. You can't hide slides on the fly.

Google Drive Google Sheets
Figure 2: The user interfaces to the Google Drive apps faithfully mimic Microsoft Office 2003 with logical menu arrangements and quick, icon-based access to the most common tasks.
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