Google Apps Premier Edition review

Google has been getting quite brash lately, telling anyone who will listen that corporate customers, big and small, are abandoning traditional office applications for its online offering, Google Docs. For the princely sum of ?25 exc VAT per user per year, you too can have access to Google’s perpetual beta program of word processing, spreadsheets and presentations – and Google will also throw in mail management, spam filters, collaboration tools and 25GB of online storage. The free Standard Edition only has 7GB of storage, shows you adverts alongside your email and does not include many of the more advanced features.

Signing up to Google Apps Premier Edition (GAPE) is relatively simple but integrating it into your corporate computing environment is less so. Google gives instructions as to how to add MX and CNAME Records to your ISP account to direct Google Mail to your corporate email accounts but only for a few ISPs. If you use any other ISP, you’re left to do this integration by yourself with minimal help. Some ISPs don’t provide the tools you need to manage your DNS records directly so you’d need to involve their technical support people to do this.

Google provides online utilities to allow you to provision new accounts for co-workers and to manage your corporate office portal but the main tools are still Google Docs word processing, spreadsheets and presentations.

Main tools

The toolsets in these main applications are quite rudimentary. The range of different fonts you can use is limited to just 12 (including Wingdings) in the word processor, just six in spreadsheets and presentations.

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You also get Google’s choice of font sizes and no others, so if you want 11, 13 or 16 point text in your document you’re out of luck. The word processor can use styles but only picked from a very small list of built-in styles for “Normal” and “Heading 1” to “Heading 6”. If you don’t like these styles, there’s no way to change them or to build your own.

You can have headers and footers, insert manual page breaks and put page numbers on your document but you can’t control the format of those page numbers such as specifying Roman numerals or “Page X of Y”. Tables and columns can be sized as a percentage of the page/table width or a number of pixels (but not in centimetres or inches).

Want borders on your table cells? You can have them, but only in one colour and thickness for every cell in the table. If you want anything more fancy, look elsewhere. There’s a page layout mode in the word-processing module that tries to show you how your work will look on a printed page with margins and page breaks but it falls down badly by not recognising landscape pages, so the text appears to run off the white page and into a grey no-man’s land.

The spreadsheet module is fine for simple calculations but don’t expect a speedy response with a sheet of any meaningful size. There’s also quite a lot of flickering as sheets are saved or recalculated. Even a small spreadsheet takes a couple of seconds to turn a simple formula you typed into a result. Charts are rudimentary, and only in garish, primary colours, and there are virtually no tools for editing charts short of changing the title or redrawing a column chart as a line chart. If you want to publish a chart, Google gives you a snippet of HTML to copy and “paste into any HTML page” – not very helpful, unless you’re adept at editing raw HTML.

For presentations, Google Apps are barely adequate. There are 15 themes, all of which look tired and dated. With just six fonts to choose from and little control over the layout of the standard blocks, slides could quickly become boring and “samey”. Inserting images means browsing to upload the image from your PC, or typing a URL to copy an image from the web, and then waiting to upload it to Google’s servers before it appears in your presentation. Dragging a corner of the image to resize it then changes the aspect ratio, unexpectedly squashing or stretching the image. (You have to hold the Shift key to resize retaining the correct proportions.)

Details

Software subcategory Office software

Requirements

Processor requirement None

Operating system support

Operating system Windows Vista supported? yes
Operating system Windows XP supported? yes
Operating system Linux supported? yes
Operating system Mac OS X supported? yes

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