I took some time to experiment with Google Docs today so I could see if it might be a viable document solution for small construction businesses. In this post I’m only looking at the word processing offering and I am writing this post using Google Docs’ word processor application online.

This is really working in the cloud, and I just noticed there is an automatic save going on that seems to be triggered whenever I stop typing for about six seconds. That’s a good feature, since the document I’m creating is not on my own hard drive, and won’t be, unless I copy it to a document on my drive, or download it.

I can choose from among 17 fonts, and normal text, or six heading levels. Font sizes go from 8 points to 72 points, there is bold, italic and underline along with text and highlight color options. You can also add links and pictures, increase or decrease the indention and set the type left, center or right. There is no justification button but there is a line space option that also lets you set the space between end and beginning of paragraphs.

You do have to be careful to make sure the cursor is blinking before you start typing after you have chosen an option or set a function. I tend to look at my keyboard when I type (that’s how I achieve speeds exceeding 30 words a minute) and on two occasions I have looked up only to see what I had been feverishly typing never made it on the screen.

Other cool tools include word count, a Translate option that translates your document into the language of your choice and places the translation into a new document, and a Define option so you can highlight a word, choose Define from the Tools menu, and get a definition. There is also an option to insert a Table.

Screen Shot of Google Docs Menu Bar

The application has pretty good image control except for not being able to specify a space between it and adjacent text.

You can also undo, redo, print and cut, copy and paste. Basically this will do everything you might need to do for creating a basic document. I just took a screen shot of the top of the page and uploaded it to the document. You can see it to the right. There are controls where you can resize the picture using the standard handles and you can also select to have it “Inline” or “Fixed.” If you leave it as Inline, apparently the default, the text won’t wrap. Change it to Fixed and it wraps. Then you can drag it to the right or left side of the page and the text will automatically wrap to the opposite side. You can even set it in the middle and the text will wrap to both sides. What I couldn’t find was a way to add some space between the picture and the text. To me, it’s just too close and crammed-looking. I always like a space of from 5 to 10 pixels between text and pictures. (You won’t see that problem here because my WordPress theme gives me that functionality.)

When it comes to sharing, Google Docs gets a gold star. You can download your document as ODT, PDF, RTF, Text, Word and HTML. Nice. There are also some great controls for sharing the document with others for collaboration. Of course, you can also print, even though that seems to me to run counter to the idea of working in the cloud in the first place. But, hey, I know many people still like to smell the ink and actually hold their creations.

There are several other features that make Google’s word-processor-in-the-cloud a solid choice for any construction business that wants to quit maintaining this kind of software on its computers or servers. Heck, I don’t think you can go wrong, unless you have an unreliable or terribly slow Internet connection. Did I mention it’s free?