Google Docs vs Microsoft Office

Question

Is it really safe to use Google Docs for sensitive documents or is it better to stick to Microsoft Office on my own computer?

-Jill

Answer

This question was answered on May 22, 2009. Much of the information contained herein may have changed since posting.

For those that haven’t ventured into ‘cloud computing’, Google Docs ( http://www.google.com/docs ) is a pretty good place to start.

Cloud computing refers to applications that exist in the ‘cloud’ (a.k.a the Internet) instead of on your computer’s local hard drive Nothing to install, simply use any Internet browser to access the application from any computer.

Cloud computing applications have pros and cons and security is just one of many considerations (in my opinion, it’s no less secure than storing your docs on your own hard drive, it’s just exposed in a different way).

The reality for most users today is that you will likely want to use both Google Docs and Microsoft Office unless you rarely create documents, spreadsheets or presentations.

Google Docs was never designed to replace Microsoft Office and using the various applications should make that pretty obvious within a few minutes of launching them.

Google Docs is a very useful tool for those that want to store, collaborate and share documents as well as those that want to publish information to a wide variety of users.

It isn’t particularly powerful in all of the formatting and annotation areas that are the mainstay of Microsoft Office applications, but if you want to collaborate with a group of folks on a document or spreadsheet, it is spectacular!

If you have ever worked with a group of people or even tried to edit a document, spreadsheet or presentation between two parties, keeping track of who has which version and dealing with the inevitable ‘two different versions’ syndrome that someone has to compare and sync, you’ll love Google Docs.

Google Docs eliminates all the hassles associated with e-mail file attachments and keeps track of every version of whatever you are working on so that you know what was changed by whom and when (and you can even go back to a previous version if necessary).

If you’re the only one that will ever edit any of the files created on Google Docs, it still has great value because you have instant access to the information from any Internet connected computer on the planet and you’re much less likely to lose any information from a computer crash (I’d bet on Google’s uptime over any personal computer).

You decide with each document whether you want to keep them private or share them with others, so the biggest issue with storing sensitive documents on Google Docs is being careful who you share them with or if at all.

As far as having your documents accessed by ‘hackers’, many would argue that sensitive docs stored on your computer’s hard drive are much easier to get at then a secured account with Google.

The “secure-ness” of the documents has more to do with your habits and safe practices, rather than the location of the documents Neither of the scenarios is safe if you get infected by a keylogger, for instance, which will record all the keystrokes that you type whether you are using Google Docs or Microsoft Office.

You don’t have to create all your documents on Google Docs in order to use it; you can start a document on Microsoft Word, then ‘Import’ it into Google Docs later if you want to share or collaborate with others.

Once the collaboration is finished, you can export it back to your computer’s hard drive in Microsoft Office formats for final formatting or editing.

The bottom line: Google Docs are secure, efficient and extremely useful for many scenarios, but I wouldn’t recommend that you toss your Microsoft Office disks just yet!

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Author

Posted by Ken of Data Doctors on May 22, 2009