By Josh Olson
University of North Carolina at Charlotte
Once upon a time, Google was only a search engine company. But today, Google dabbles in everything from email to academic databasing. And, in a direct swipe at Microsoft, Google released a free word processing program called Google Docs in 2007. It is what internet gurus call "cloud-based," which means your data is stored on the Internet, rather than on your computer. Not only does this mean you can save a chunk of change on word processing software, it also means you can access your documents from any computer.
But is Google Docs a viable alternative to Microsoft Office? Is it really worth it for college students? Here's the scoop.
1. It's free. Office can cost $150, if not more.
2. You can access your docs from any computer connected to the Internet. So if your computer has caught a bug or if you just don't feel like schlepping your computer to campus and would rather use the school's computers, Google Docs severs the chains to your local device. This can be very convenient.
1. The Internet is insecure. When you're in the cloud, you're highly hackable. On the one hand, it may seem very convenient to access your docs from anywhere -- whether the library lobby or Starbucks. But actually, these are precisely the places where evil-doers can take advantage of you over wifi and hack into your accounts. Data stored in the cloud is more insecure than data stored locally on your computer.
2. Professors don't accept Google Docs files. Professors generally only accept Office files (and, sometimes, Pages or Rich Text formats). This means that you will probably need Office anyway for your professor to be able to read your documents. Or, you will need to cut and paste your Google Docs file onto a Word file on a school computer. But that's not very convenient.
3. Google Docs has interface issues. You get what you pay for. And, all things considered, Google Docs is not a bad program given its $0 pricetag. Nevertheless, its interface is rougher and less thought-out than Word or Pages. It also is more bug-prone.
4. You have to be connected to the Internet. Let's face it: the world is not yet one big wifi hotspot. The day will come. But until then, you need to be able to access your documents when you're not connected to the Internet. If your wifi drops out while your putting the finishing touches on that big research paper, you will not be happy.
Google Docs is great (1) for students who do not have a computer and have to rely on the university computer labs, (2) students who only have a desktop and like to work on the school computers, and (3) students who may have a laptop but don't feel like hauling it on campus. If, however, you are a laptop person, Google Docs doesn't make much sense for you. Microsoft Office is usually not difficult to acquire in a college environment. Craigslist is your friend.