Google Docs or Microsoft Word—Which Is Right For You?

Google Docs or Microsoft Word—Which Is Right For You?

Depending on how much you write, you may already know that you have options when it comes to the software you use to create documents. But many people are unaware that they really do have choices.

Document creation has come a long way since the earliest word processors—especially considering they were often their own separate machines. Eventually, word processors became available as software, leading to word processors like WordPerfect (which was hugely popular for years). Microsoft Word, after being released in the 80s, eventually rose to take the top spot and has remained the standard word processor since.

Because Microsoft Word is so popular, and because it so often comes along with PCs being purchased, it can be easy sometimes to forget there are other avenues for document creation. In fact, there are quite a few available word processors, like Apache OpenOffice Writer, WordPerfect, and Pages (Apple’s word processor).

An interesting, and newer, addition to the word processing family is the web word processor. Instead of only being offered as software to download, some word processors are accessed on the web. Google Docs is a good example of this kind of word processor. Released in the mid-2000s, Google Docs has become one of the better-known word processors. It can be downloaded on some devices, but it’s primarily a web application.

Microsoft Word and Google Docs are two particularly popular word processors, one of which is primarily used as downloadable software, the other typically accessed online. In this article, I’ll go over some of the basics of the two offerings, make note of what they have in common, and talk about what makes them special. This can help give an idea of which word processor sounds best to you!

What are the basics?

Before we get into more details, let’s take a look at some of the basic information on both word processors.

Microsoft Word

  • Cost—Depending on the package, as low as $6.99/mo.
  • Compatibility—For PC & Mac; Android, iOS, & Windows devices; web version available
  • Number of devices—Depends on the package; from 1 computer to multiple computers, tablets, and phones

Google Docs

  • Cost—Free
  • Compatibility—For any computer with access to a modern browser; Android & iOS devices
  • Number of devices—As many as you want

What do they have in common?

Microsoft Word and Google Docs are alike in some ways, including some shared features. Some of these features are basic and what one would expect from a word processor. Here are some of the ways they’re alike.

Both Word and Google Docs:

  • include basic formatting features, like font choice, text color, highlighting, and paragraph spacing
  • can include tables, charts, and footnotes
  • offer spell-checking, dictionary look-up, and word count
  • can include images
  • provide formatting presets, like headers, footers, and a table of contents
  • offer the ability to review or analyze documents with word counts, comments, and accessibility checks
  • have options for view modes, like page orientation, zoom, and rulers
  • have extensive help services for better understanding how to use them
  • work with keyboard shortcuts
  • offer document templates
  • offer the ability to save to the cloud

There are many more basic similarities, many of which are standard across most word processors.

What makes Word different?

Word does differ from Google Docs in some ways other than the fact that Google Docs is web-based. Here are some of the ways Word sets itself apart:

Some special features:
Image use—Though it’s not necessarily easy to manipulate or place images in Word, there are more ways to do so than you can find in Google Docs. For instance, Word users can add frames and effects to their images, and there are quite a few options for changing how they’re laid out on the page.

Mail options—If you’re using Word to create mailings, you have useful features available to you. You can create envelopes and use features like Mail Merge, which makes it easy to create personalized versions of your document for each person on your mailing list.

Extensive reference choices—With Word, you can expect to have all the options you need to format your academic or professional documents. There are options for footnotes, citations, cross-references, and more that get into the smallest of details.

Microsoft Word connects well with other Microsoft products, like those found in the Office suite. It also connects to OneDrive, Microsoft’s cloud storage service.

Ease of use
Because Microsoft Word is typically accessed offline, it’s usually easy to open and manage files, even without an internet connection.

Of course, one complaint some users have about Word is that there are simply too many options, making it overwhelming and confusing. It can be difficult to find what you need, considering there are so many different ribbons with different content and options.

What makes Google Docs different?

Google Docs has things to offer that Word currently does not. Here are just some of the ways Docs is different from Word:

Some special features
Collaboration—Though there is a way to collaborate with others using Word, Google Docs makes it much, much easier. Anyone added to the document can add comments, track changes, and see what other collaborators have already said. You can even watch the document being edited by others in real-time, making it easier to work together. And there’s a chat option, so if you have the document open at the same time as another collaborator, you can message them directly.

Easy version tracking—With Google Docs, it’s easy to keep up with edits to the document. Collaborators can see who made which edits, and you can also name your different versions for easier access later. The different versions are displayed in an easy to follow column, including color coding when there is more than one person working on the document.

Google Docs connects well with other Google services, like their cloud storage service, Google Drive. It can also convert and open Microsoft Word documents.

Ease of use
Despite what you might think, it’s easy to access your files with Google Docs—even offline. Many worry that using a web-based word processor means their files can only be accessed when they’re connected. However, Google Docs allows for offline access as long as this is enabled in your settings. You also aren’t restricted to saving documents into just the cloud. You can save your documents to your computer, including saving them in multiple different formats, like .docx (Word format) and PDF.

Also, one of the main reasons Google Docs is so popular is because of its clean and usable interface. Though there are certainly fewer features (including fewer available add-ons), meaning you can’t necessarily customize your document as fully as you can with Word, it does make Google Docs less intimidating.

Everything is clearly displayed in the toolbars and dropdowns. One of the only times someone is likely to become confused is if they’ve switched from Word and are trying to look for a specific feature that isn’t included. Also, many features Word users are used to are only included in add-ons, which isn’t as intuitive as it would be if the features were already included. However, this does allow Docs users to decide which features they need instead of becoming bogged down.

Final thoughts

Overall, Microsoft Word and Google Docs do offer many of the same basic word processing features. However, Microsoft Word offers more extensive and detailed formatting of documents, while Google Docs is excellent when it comes to collaboration and ease of use.

It might be as simple as this: if you want access to a great deal of detailed features and are willing to pay for it, Word may be best for you, especially if you’re too used to relying on its many options.

However, if you don’t mind having fewer options, Google Docs could easily meet your needs for free while also taking away some of the stress of collaborating with others and eliminating the confusion that comes with so many different options.