Wednesday, 11 April 2018

Google Docs Vs Microsoft Word - the verdict

(Note - on recommendations, I also looked at LibreOffice and Scrivener.)

Is one really better than the other?

The simple answer is no. The problem with choosing writing software, or having it recommended, is that different writers have different working habits. Some gather loads of research. Some plot to an insanely detailed degree. Some keep detailed character files. Some write scenes then shuffle them about. And some just start at Chapter One and see what happens on the page.

It also depends on where you work. Some writers have a single desktop machine that never moves. Some have a laptop and write while watching TV or on the go. Some have different machines with different operating systems (eg PC and Mac) and work between the two. Some even write on tablets or smartphones.

So, in order to find the best platform, simply playing with different word processors isn't enough. I need to nail down where I work and how I work and then find the best fit for my needs.

Where I work

Mainly, at home on a personal laptop and during my lunch hour on a work's laptop.

I have worked with Word and Dropbox for years, but that means syncing my documents to a specific machine at work. If that laptop isn't available, it means logging into Dropbox and copying the files, working, then saving and copying back. Google Docs works across different machine and operating systems effortlessly. I can open a document on any device and it is ready to edit without any fuss. I also found that I really like having my documents to hand on my phone, especially if I'm sitting waiting in the car or something. I tried using Word and Dropbox apps to balance this out, but they feel clunky by comparison.

Google Docs rocked this round. 

How I work

I like to bounce between documents and have lots of information at hand - specifically, the working document, character profiles and a working outline. Scrivener should be perfect for this, but it's just not mobile. It also feels a bit messy and quite 90s, if that makes sense. I can have multiple documents open in Word, but flipping between them isn't as fast or instinctive as Google Docs (CTRL + TAB). I can also work FULL SCREEN. This option is available in Word, LibreOffice and Scrivener, but LibreOffice leaves a button on screen, Scrivener leaves the background semi-visible and Word had the option hidden (I only found it this week, and I've had my W-2007 copy for over ten years!).

Google Docs wins.

Final manuscript

I have a particular look for my final manuscripts, and want my file to look that way from day one. Scrivener fell flat on its face as far as this is concerned. I like WYSIWYG, and don't want to go down the compiling rabbit-hole and lose hours of time to something that should be intuitive, not so complicated that I have to watch YouTube vids and still risk messing it up. Google Docs is good, has lots of the features of Word and produces a great final draft, but Word gives me just a little more control over style guides. (Note, I also looked at LibreOffice here too, but it didn't sway me at all).

Word wins - but it's a fairly close finish.

Editing

I'm yet to try Google Docs for editing. Word is the industry standard, and that's what most editors use, but I would like to really test Google Docs here. One of the best features of Docs is that two or more people can work on the same document at the same time. As one person edits, those changes appear on all open devices. That's the future, right there.

Word wins by default, but I would really like to opportunity to test Docs in this field.

Overall Verdict

Word: I've worked on Word for years, and together with Dropbox I thought I had a system nailed.

Scrivener: I've played with this a few times and should love it, but it feels messy and clunky. The learning curve doesn't bother me at all; what bothers me most is that it feels like taking a step back to the 90s.

Google Docs: This really surprised me. I'm amazed at just how easy it is to use across platforms, and love the added bonus of being able to see and edit my documents on a mobile device without any fuss. I don't need to worry about saving or the program crashing either. But more than anything, for sheer productivity, Google Docs blows everything else out of the water.

Great. Now that's all sorted, it's time I sat down and wrote something!

Colin Mulhern