You have some tech questions, I have some answers. Every Friday, I try to resolve these mysteries, succinctly and in plain language. Please send questions to walt@recode.net. Note that I won’t be able to diagnose your personal tech glitches and problems. I also reserve the right to edit questions for length or clarity, and to combine similar inquiries.

Q. I am wondering whether you advise using Microsoft Office or adopting Google Docs. I am leaning toward the latter because it’s free.

A. It depends on your needs, and your budget. Google Docs, the online office suite that is now an embedded part of Google Drive, is free. Office has various prices, but is typically now sold as a subscription for $99 a year.

Google’s suite is capable, and has excellent collaboration features, including the ability for multiple people to simultaneously edit. But it is fairly basic. Office is a highly developed, rich set of software with many more features, and some collaboration capabilities. For instance, you can save from Office to Microsoft’s online storage service, OneDrive, edit them in online versions of the Office programs, and invite others to edit them.

So, if your budget is very tight and/or you only need basic capabilities, Google’s offering might do the trick.

But there’s a big catch: While Google Docs has been gaining adherents, Office is still the standard, especially the Office document formats. And, sadly, Google’s suite can’t edit Office docs directly. You must first convert them to Google’s format, and then, if you choose, export them back to a Microsoft format. Along the way, you risk losing some fidelity or formatting, especially in complex spreadsheets or presentations. This may be a big deal if you are sharing the files with others who use Office, not Google. So your decision may come down to the question of who is the audience for your documents.

Breeze iPhone app

Breeze iPhone app

Q. Since the latest iPhone now has an activity sensor, do I need to sync it with a fitness band to count my daily steps?

A. No. There are a variety of pedometer and step-counting apps that work without a band or external device. While I haven’t thoroughly reviewed these, I’ve played around with a few, including Breeze, Argus, and one simply named Pedometer. All use data from the phone’s motion sensor, and can even retrieve data from recent days stored on the phone. The upside of these apps is that you don’t have to buy or wear anything else. The downside is that, unlike a band, which you are likely to wear all the time, your trusty phone might not be with you every minute to capture your motion — for instance, when it’s charging.

 

 

 



16 comments
DonKinAK
DonKinAK

In your writeup evaluating Google docs versus Microsoft office, you explained that Google's solution, while free, lacks many of the features of Microsoft and furthermore, incompatible formatting creates extra work to import and export files in the Microsoft format.


There is another solution – LibreOffice (formerly OpenOffice). It's a no-cost, freely available, fully functioning suite of office applications. It imports and exports Microsoft files and many other formats without difficulty, though my experience is not exhaustive. I still have a set of Microsoft Office 2003 that fits like an old slipper, but I'm liking the LibreOffice software more and more. 


What are your thoughts?

ROV-TreadLightly
ROV-TreadLightly

As well as missing that Office Online is free you also missed that Office Online supports multiple editors at the same time.


Regarding Office subscriptions - there is a new 'personal' rate that is about 2/3 the, annual, price of the version mentioned.


I agree with some of the more generic comments below regarding - what you will use it for and who you will share with. PDFs are the way to share data that does not need altering.

Steve_efsmart
Steve_efsmart

We've been a Google Docs subscriber for a couple of years.

Putting the issue of $100 aside, for a small business with needs for proposals, simple spreadsheets and presentations, integrated email, the flexibility of working on any machine at any time without loading software on your machine[s], and the Dropbox-esque Google Drive, Google Docs is a good choice.

I can sit on any machine in or out of my office and quickly get to work.

I agree that there are limitations with handling MS docs, but for 90% of the work I do it isn't an issue. There are areas that Google Docs doesn't handle well [at least at my primitive coding ability]: Citations for academic use and complicated spreadsheets.

By paying the $50 per year fee per account you won't see advertising. You also can move your current email address [blahblah@your_domain.com] to the google servers.

BTW, I'm not a shill for Google.

alphaman
alphaman

Uh, rather than paying for Microsoft Office, or losing my privacy to GoOgle, how about iCloud.com? It opens and saves documents in Office formats, costs $0, my privacy is protected, and I don't get *any* ads in my face.

This is not a binary choice -- there are more than 2 options.

Forest
Forest

Dear Walt,

In today’s Ask Walt post titled “Microsoft Office or Google Docs?” the questioner stated s/he was leaning toward Google Docs because it is free.  Your answer did not inform the reader that Office Online is also free. Instead, your answer reinforced that Microsoft Office can only be had for a price, typically sold for $99 per year.

I hope you will consider updating your post to let users know that Microsoft Office is a viable option for the cost conscious and those who roam across devices, not only for those who need to adhere to a de facto standard file format.

Office Online is completely free.  Simply sign in to any of the related services such as Outlook.com or OneDrive.com and click on the drop-down arrow in the upper-left corner of the page to reveal all of the free online apps.  These include: Outlook (mail), People, Calendar, OneDrive, Word Online, Excel Online, PowerPoint Online, and OneNote Online.  These free online versions of Office applications are rich with the most commonly used features of Office and they look beautiful.

If you create an Excel file on your computer and save it to OneDrive, you can sign in to the browser-based OneDrive from anywhere and click on that Excel file to open it in Excel Online.This scenario means you have the ability to create, edit, read, and share Microsoft Office documents from any internet connected computer, tablet, or phone with a modern browser – for free.

Bahmani
Bahmani

The benefits of MSWord over Google Docs are minimal to negligible at best. MS WOrd Styles are troublesome especially when passing documents between multiple editors on different computers with different versions of fonts installed. In addition MSWord has the damnable feature of Macros, which have allowed viruses to pass from one user to another. Hackers creating macro viruses have been able to disable the Macro filter in MSWord, so MSWord's supposed built in protection against Macro viruses, is flawed. Building tables, and inserting images, and all sorts of other time consuming features of MSWord (like word count), merely bog down the application to a snail's pace, AND suck up valuable ram and hard drive space.


Meanwhile, Google Docs opens saves, and allows you to do all the 99% of stuff you do in a document, all online, from any computer, or mobile device including tablet. No local drive storage hogging, no font problems, all the bells and whistles, with no viruses (so far) trying to hack your addressbook. (Keep in mind MSWord is directly/indirectly connected/related to your MSOutlook addressbook too)


Finally, 99% of all word processing output today ends up being a non-modifiable full self contained correctly paginated and formatted PDF. Proposals, reports, contracts, and invoices and such. MSWord also saves out file-size heavy PDF's which are often un-emailable. Most MSWord versions usually require adding the third party Adobe Acrobat plugin in order to be able to save as PDF. Yet more bloat and hasle and unreliability.


With the rampant susceptibility of MSWord native documents (.doc or .docx) to viruses and general classic MS bugginess, many IT managers outright refuse to allow them on their hack-prone servers, and discourage users for passing, emailing, or storing them in-house.


Google Docs has NONE of these problems, saves out beautifully optimized (for files size), and accommodates multiple devices, multiple users, seamlessly.


At $99 for an online version (that may not work well offline) of a historically troublesome application, just getting it's bearings and feet wet in this new multi-mobile-device multi-editor PDF world, I'd rather spend the money on expanding my Google Docs storage.


Because it looks like I'll be using it a lot more.

eijo
eijo

Hahaha... who is this? Office Online has allways been free seens it came some years ago...

CarlosS
CarlosS

Walt, how can you possibly fail to mention that Office.com is free to use? Wow...

savingpvtbryan
savingpvtbryan

@alphaman Have you read the other comments? You can get Office for free by using Office Online. 

Krinos
Krinos

@Forest It's quite disappointing that the 'executive editor' would miss such a salient point.

savingpvtbryan
savingpvtbryan

@Bahmani You obviously have never used Office 365 if you think it's an online version. You instantly lost credibility after you said it costs $99 for the online version. The online version is free. This version of Office, which is Microsoft's equivalent of Google Docs, is called Office Online. It has more functionality than Google Docs and you don't run into any of the issues you have with Google Docs. Get your story straight.

SurviveAndThrive
SurviveAndThrive

@savingpvtbryan looks like Office online is quite a bit more limited- restricting mobile access etc.  The desire to make the upsell is compromising the user experience.  

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