Sunday, March 20, 2011

Using Microsoft Office and Google Docs Together

While there’s plenty of overlap between desktop-based Microsoft Office and web-based Google Docs, each tool has its own strong points.

For instance, Microsoft Office offers excellent tools for you to create and edit documents, presentations and spreadsheets in an offline environment. Google Docs lets can easily view and edit your Office documents using the browser itself – this comes handy when you aren’t carrying your laptop computer (that has all the documents) or are using a device that doesn’t have Microsoft Office (like your mobile phone).

One tool is good for creating documents while the other helps you access documents on the go and thus it is makes good sense to use both these tools together.

Microsoft Office with Google Docs

Integrating Microsoft Office with Google Docs

An idle workflow would be that you create your document in Microsoft Office and it instantly becomes available in Google Docs (and vice-versa). Also, if you make any edits in the cloud, they should sync with the copy on the desktop.

Now there are quite a few tools that let you integrate Microsoft Office with Google Docs though, because of certain limitations in the Google Docs API, two-way synchronization between the two Office products is still far from perfect. Here are some tools worth a try:

1. Google Cloud Connect – This is a free plugin for Microsoft Office that will let you save your Office documents to your Google Docs account with a click.

Compose a new document inside Word, Excel or PowerPoint and hit the Sync button to upload it to your Google account. This is a one-way street - if you make any edits to your documents in the cloud, those changes won’t be available locally.

2. Offisync – Before Google Cloud Connect hit the web, Offisync was the only good option for saving documents directly to Google Docs from within Microsoft Office programs (read detailed review of Offisync software).

Unlike the ugly toolbar of Cloud Connect, Offisync adds a ribbon tab to your Microsoft Office allowing you to save the open document directly to the cloud. One unique and useful feature is that you may also use Offisync to open web documents, that are already on Google Docs, and edit them with Microsoft Office. When you hit Save, the changes get saved both online and offline.

3. Syncplicity – Syncplicity is a Dropbox-like online file storage and synchronization service that also supports Google Docs (see tutorial: Sync Office and Google Docs with Syncplicity).

Link your Gmail or Google Apps account with Syncplicity and then designate a local desktop folder that should be kept in sync with Google Docs. Now when you save a new document, spreadsheet or presentation to this local folder, a copy of it will automatically get stored to your Google Docs account. Similarly, if you create a new document inside Google Docs, it will become available inside your local folder automatically.

4. Gladinet Starter – With the help of Gladinet Desktop, you can quickly and easily ‘mount’ your Google Docs account as a virtual drive (say Z:) and access your online Google documents as if they were residing on the local hard drive.

You can then double-click any document in this virtual folder to edit with the corresponding Office program. Any files saved to this folder are uploaded to Google Docs. You can also drag-n-drop files to this virtual folder and they’ll get uploaded in a batch to your online Google Docs account. Similarly, dragging files out of this folder will create a local backup of your Google Docs.

5. Insync – This is relatively new service that, like Syncplicity, provides offline access to your Google Docs files and can also sync your local document folder with the cloud. When you add or edit a file on the local desktop, it will automatically sync to Google Docs and vice-versa.

The desktop client for Insync is available for both Mac and Windows. The software has promising features but the version I tested for this comparison was buggy and did not work as advertised. Google Apps users may jump to Insync right away while there’s a waiting list for Gmail users.

Final thoughts - If you can live with that ugly-looking toolbar, Google Cloud Connect is neat because it saves Office documents to Google Docs in their native format. However, if you also need access to your old Google Docs files from within Microsoft Office, Offisync or Gladinet Cloud Desktop are good choices.

That said, when you save a document created in Microsoft Office to Google Docs, the original formatting is less likely to be preserved. That’s one area where the Office Web Apps and SkyDrive duo seems to enjoy an upper hand.

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