What Are the Advantages and Disadvantages of Google Docs?

By Aaron Parson

Google offers Google Docs as a free alternative to Microsoft Word. The zero-dollar price tag for Docs gives it a leg up on Word, and Docs is compatible with Word documents, but the free word processor lacks some features, such as support for multiple columns. Docs runs completely from the Internet, which causes some limitations to file availability but also provides a way to save a constant stream of revisions so you never lose your work.

Internet Connectivity

Unlike Microsoft Word and most other word processors, Google Docs runs in a Web browser -- you don't need to install Docs on your computer. Running Docs through the Internet makes it possible to work on any Internet-connected computer, but this presents a limitation: If you lose your Internet connection, you lose access to the program. As a workaround, Google offers a Drive app for Chrome and a Drive desktop program, which provide offline access to all Drive files, including files in Docs. To work offline, however, you need to plan ahead. If you don't set up Drive to work offline ahead of time, you can't access Docs offline in a pinch.

Google Drive Integration

All files you edit in Docs automatically save to Google Drive every time you make a change, so if your computer crashes, you can pick up exactly where you left off -- Docs doesn't even have a "Save" option in the File menu. Drive stores each save as a separate revision, making it possible to revert changes. Google does not count Docs files toward your allotted space on Drive, so you can keep an unlimited number of documents and revisions. Although helpful, these features work exclusively through Google Drive: You can't link Docs with Dropbox, Box, SugarSync or any other cloud-storage service. If you already use another service and want to share a Docs file through that service, you need to download the file and then upload it to your preferred cloud service.

Feature Differences

Google Docs includes most of the same features as Microsoft Word, but not everything works identically between the two programs. In 2013, Microsoft released ads that called out specific features missing in Docs, including columns and image-editing support. Google occasionally adds new features to Docs, however, such as the mid-2014 addition of "Suggested Edits" -- equivalent to Word's Track Changes feature. In a few cases, Docs offers features beyond Word, especially in regard to collaboration: In Docs, multiple users can work on a document simultaneously and see changes in real time.

Suite Integration

Microsoft Word offers a major benefit through its integration with the rest of the Microsoft Office suite, such as the ability to paste spreadsheet cells from Excel into Word or embed a PowerPoint slide in a document. Docs supports similar ties with Google's other office programs, Sheets and Slides, but there are no Google equivalents for the more advanced Office programs, such as Publisher, Access or Visio. Docs also can't link directly to your Outlook data to perform a mail merge or read information on your calendar.