Here in the soon-to-shut-down DC Government we have been in a Google Apps pilot for the past year and a half or so. (This pilot also involves using gmail instead of Exchange!) The docs are great for collaboration. Instead of sending out a spread sheet to twenty recipients asking for data, and then having to collate all of the replies into a master spread sheet, you can upload your spread sheet to the cloud and everybody gets a link to access it and populate the spread sheet via their web browser. It can be a huge time saver for data gathering, surveys and other activities involving a large user base that must collaborate.
One of the coolest things is that each person can see data being input by others that have the document open. A side benefit to an organization is that the email servers no longer need to double as file servers. You can also recover earlier versions of documents in case one of the collaborators thinks it would be a good idea to delete half of the document contents.
And, as you might expect from Google, searching through all documents for key words is super fast. I am scrolling through the hundreds of documents that have been shared with me during the pilot and it’s insanely easy to find anything as long as you can think of a key word.
Having said that, it is extremely underpowered and lacks a lot of the advanced features of fat client spread sheet programs. Font styles in word documents are limited to 18 or so; and only 6 in spread sheets.
Here’s a feedback document from the pilot where lots of people didn’t have many good things to say.
Cell formatting in spread sheets is anemic. You can merge cells horizontally but not vertically. Little annoyances like that all over the place. No pivot tables/charts. For basic use, it’s great. But it’s not for power users. Here’s a screen shot of a spread sheet where you can see the limited formatting functionality in the tool bar.
The traditional delay in cloud-based apps is sometimes annoyingly present because everything has to go to California and back before you see the results of typing or mouse clicks.
Of course the appeal is that it’s much cheaper than an enterprise license for MS Office. But you definitely get what you pay for. I use the free service with my personal gmail account just because I like having access to all of my documents no matter where in the world I am. That has come in very handy on more than a few occasions.