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Just over a decade ago, if you wanted to write a formatted document, you’d need to install a word processor on your computer—which would typically come as part of an office suite for $100 or more. Today, just open a new tab, go to docs.google.com, and you’ve got the core word processing features you need for free.
Google Docs—which started out as Writely in 2005 before Google acquired it the following year—is along with Gmail the linchpin app in Google’s online office suite, G Suite. Its best claim to fame is that it’s free and works in any browser. And yet, the best reason to use it is for collaboration.
It’s a great word processor on its own. Need to make a new document? Open Google Docs, start from scratch or with a template, and you’ll likely not miss a thing from other word processor apps. It includes all the formatting features you’d expect, and while you can’t install your own fonts, it does include a wide range of typefaces from Google Fonts. To share data in your document, you can embed a graph from a Google Sheets spreadsheet. And, you can use the Google Keep notes app to gather data then drag it into your document from the Keep sidebar. Need anything else? There’s an add-ons store with a wide range of Google Docs add-ons to print labels, make template documents, add research and citations to documents, and more.
Thanks to being a web app, you can use it from any web browser as long as you have an internet connection. Install Google Docs’ Chrome extension, and you can edit Google Docs document offline, too. Or, install its mobile apps to edit documents online or off from your phone or tablet. You’ll never have to worry about saving your documents or copying them between computers.
It’s also great at sharing—perhaps the best reason to use Google Docs. You can share documents with anyone else via email, or with your whole team, or with anyone who has the document’s link. Everyone can edit the document together in real-time, adding suggested edits and comments as the document takes shape. You can then go back through the document history to see what changed and name versions for an easy way to jump back to specific versions of the document. And if you’re using Google Sheets with your company’s G Suite account, you can share template documents with your entire team.
Google Docs is one of the best ways to make traditional documents today. It’s still great at making for-print documents—and just as good at helping your team collaborate on shared digital documents you’ll never print.
Originally published February 25, 2015; re-written May 3, 2018 with a more detailed focus on Google Docs.