As a start-up company, money is always a concern. Which is why we always spend it on worthwhile necessities. If we found a free service, we would go for it until we can afford a better premium solution.
And as per any company, documentation and foldering plays a very big role in the development process, keeping track of necessary information, records and reports. And I dare say that when we talk about writing documents, the first service that usually comes to our mind is Microsoft Office.
But Microsoft Office is not a free tool. It costs approximately USD500 per package, which includes Microsoft Word, Excel, Powerpoint, Outlook and OneNote. Of course, depending on the initial funding of the startup, USD500 may be a small amount to pay. But is there an alternate free solution?
Yes there is! and it is actually well-known to everyone. Introducing Google Drive!
Google Drive offers similar services like Microsoft Office, and perhaps a bit more on certain aspects. Our team chose to explore Google Drive for the purpose of documentations and storage. But are we losing much by using Google Drive over Microsoft Office?
In this article, we will discuss some of the features from using Google Drive.
When more than one party needs to collaborate on a single document, they would need to send it through email or save it on the network before another person goes and download it and continue the editing process.
On the other hand, a Google Document is created in the Google Drive itself, any changes made are immediately saved to the cloud server and anyone with the permission can access it anytime. One main advantage is that multiple parties can edit the same document at the same time. Compared to doing documentation work locally, this save up lots of times spent:
- Going back and forth editing the document between both parties
- Uploading and downloading the different revisions of the document
In fact, with Google Document, you remove the potential confusion that comes with multiple copies of different revisions as everything is centralized in one document found in Google Drive. This makes collaborating in one document to be easy and straightforward. We will talk about this more later in the article.
Google Drive Sync like a NAS2
What if you prefer editing locally instead of online? What if there’s a lot of documents that you prefer to organize in a local computer? Can you do it and share it with your colleagues without needing to pass them copies manually?
The answer is yes you can! Google Drive introduces NAS data storage through a service called Google Drive Sync.NAS stands for network-attached-storage which is basically a service to sync a local computer data storage to a cloud server for people to access.
This means that you can utilize even Microsoft Office for documentations and rely on Google Drive for access among peers. Talking about the best of both worlds!
After installing the Google Drive Sync program at your computer, you can configure which working folder you want to sync to cloud. As long as you make sure all your working copies stay within the folder then you’ll be sure to get the other copy on the server side (Google Drive). It just works exactly the same like when in a private network or NAS.
Putting documents online will always have its risk, especially when it is related to file sharing. The documents can be stolen, corrupted or worse, being held for ransom by illegal parties. This is why companies hire IT personnel to safeguard their company’s assets, ensuring there is no security breach which would leak out important documents to the wrong parties.
And not just Microsoft Office, the same thing would happen to Google Drive although it claims to be safe. We won’t know where exactly our documents are saved because it is managed by Google. It could be in the data center in California, or under the deep ocean.
But there is not much to worry when putting our documents in Google Drive. As a contingency, whatever data that is stored in Google Drive will have multiple backup copies stored in different places. So if freak accidents like a shark attack and biting off the data cable down in the ocean, or the data is corrupted, users can always retrieve the backup copies available.
Another amazing feature in Google Drive is its virus scan1. Everytime you upload your files to Google Drive, Google helps perform a virus scan before they are stored on their server.
(Technically, you can even use Google Drive as a “free antivirus”. Upload the files to Google Drive for it to run through the antivirus before downloading it again. Now that’s free antivirus service for you!)
Single Source of Truth3
For Google Drive, all you need is just a browser, and you’re free to go with your laptop to work anywhere and everywhere you want to continue your work (so long there’s internet connection to Google Drive). This is a good advantage as it provides easy access for everyone to work remotely, and access work documents from anywhere without the need to download a personal copy at every device.
Google will make sure you always get the same copy of your document either when you’re working on your computer, or on your table/Smartphone when you’re on the go. Google ensures they are the same version, and always get synced and updated.
For smartphones and tablets, the limitation is the screen size. This might lead to limited edit functions on tablet and smartphones. Google addresses this by apps that specifically cater for utilizing Google Drive in mobile devices.
I’m very impressed when watching team members editing and discussing in the same document as the document constantly gets updated and synced across different users, something which I found challenging when using other similar services. Most of the other services encounter problems in keeping documents in sync when being updated live by different team members.
One of the problems I face often and cannot resolve even until this day when using Microsoft Word is reviewing the document before release. The review process involves two parties and sometimes more. A traditional workflow in the review process usually starts with the author of the document completing his/her work before sending it for another person to review it. It goes back and forth until both parties are satisfied with the final draft.
Since it usually goes back and forth for a few rounds, the review process often takes a long time to complete. Besides, it also give rise to potentially more confusion because of the lack of “single source of truth”.
This is where Google Docs come to be very smart when handling this review process. Because it is online and it is a single source of truth, everyone will always see the updated content, questions and comments.
In fact, Google Doc keeps track of changes in the form of revision history. You can always check on the changes modified by others in the document history. Also if you somehow screwed up the latest content, there is no need to panic. You can revert to any of the previous versions before the mistake was made. Besides, you can name the particular version under the history list so that it is easier to keep track of the revisions.
Lastly, to help the review process, Google Docs introduces the mention feature (@email), where recipients can get notified of any questions by reviewers in the form of comments beside the document. Comments can even be assigned to a specific person for a response, and all discussions can be done in the comment thread. This saves a lot of email conversation, simplifying the “back and forth” process and reducing the time spent on the review process.
One last feature I found to be very useful is the drawing feature provided. It comes in especially handy needing to include flowcharts, activity diagrams, illustration annotations in a document.
It is intuitive and easy to use. Pick and drop the geometry shape that is needed, then select the connector and connect the shapes together to form a flow diagram. Once done, the connectors will adjust itself as you move the shapes around. There’s no need to reconnect them again4.
This intuitive feature saves a lot of time, when compared to drawing in other types of documentation software, it stands out as the better option. Especially evident when you move blocks or shapes around and have to rejoin the connectors all over again, how frustrating!
All in all, Google drive is a powerful and free tool for startup companies or hobbyists who need the storage and peer-to-peer access/editing of documentations. Probably the only downsides are that you require a working internet connection to stay connected to google drive and that it is challenging to deal with large files in google drive because large files would mean you need a good internet connection to load it.
But Google Drive is constantly being improved upon. Offline features are introduced now even with Google Docs Offline extension to Chrome. And if you are an owner of Chromebook, you can definitely extend the Google Drive feature to offline mode.
So if you are doing a startup or some personal project, why not consider using Google Drive?
- Google is not able to scan 100% of all the file types. They tend to skip the large files.
- This problem has been resolved and improved since Microsoft Office 2013.