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APPENDIX E - Alternative Ways to Interact with Documents

There are options for interacting with Documents other than using Google’s Web interface. The primary methods use Microsoft Word to edit the document and then using some type of synchronization method to put the changes back into Documents. Because Microsoft Word has been made quite accessible over the years, it offers an opportunity for an accessible alternative to the Web interface. Three methods were examined as alternatives: uploading and downloading Microsoft Word documents, OffiSync and Google Cloud Connect.

Uploading and Downloading Microsoft Word Documents

This technique requires the user to manually download the Document as a Microsoft Word Document, make changes within Microsoft Word and then re-upload the file to Google Docs. This method works quite well with the document retaining all of its data except for the following problems:

  • Alternative text entered in Word is removed when uploaded to Documents.
  • Equations created in Documents appear as meaningless text in Word.
  • Equations created in Word appear as an image with no alternative text.
  • Any table header information entered into Word is removed in Documents.
  • End notes in Word are converted to footnotes in Documents.

The biggest problem with this technique is it does not allow for multiple simultaneous editors. This is because a document edited in Word and re-uploaded is uploaded as a new document, not a revision to a previous document.

OffiSync

Offisync is an add-on for Word that appears as a new tab within the ribbon. It allows for live editing in Word of a document stored online within Google Docs. It also allows for multiple live editors where changes are synchronized across all the editors. In practice, the synchronization is unusable for live multiple edits. Edits would take anywhere from a few seconds to two minutes to propagate. If more changes were made in the interim period, then some items might be overwritten in the synchronization. When the files synchronize in Microsoft Word, the changes can be brought in with the Track Changes feature so the user can review the changes. If the changes are rejected, they are also removed from the online version of the document stored in Google Docs. Similar to uploading and downloading a Microsoft Word document, this technique works quite well in terms of retaining the document structure and formatting. The biggest problems are as follows:

  • Alternative text entered in Word is removed when uploaded to Documents.
  • Equations created in Documents appear as meaningless text in Word.
  • Equations created in Word appear as an image with no alternative text.
  • Any table header information entered into Word is removed in Documents.
  • End notes in Word are converted to footnotes in Documents.
  • Comments made with Word do not pass through to the online Google Document.

Also of note, some items, like images, could duplicate themselves within the document when multiple users are editing from within Microsoft Word.

Google Cloud Connect

Cloud Connect is a Google product that lets you automatically synchronize Microsoft Word documents among multiple users via Google Documents. When the file is stored in Google Documents it is stored as an actual Microsoft Word file, so it is read-only through the Web interface. This will greatly limit how other users can interact with the document. The synchronization of changes across multiple users is quite responsive. Some of the major problems with this technique are:

  • Alternative text entered in Word is removed when syncing to Google Documents.
  • Equations created in Word appear as an image when synced to another user.
  • Tables could have some formatting issues at times when syncing with another user.

Conclusion for Alternative Ways to Interact with Documents

The appropriateness of these alternative methods will vary depending on the need of the user. If multiple live editors are needed, then none of the alternatives will meet the need. If there will only be one editor of a document, OffiSync works fairly well since it keeps most of the document in tact and it allows automatic synchronization with Google Docs. In the end, none of the alternative methods provide even close to the same experience and functionality as accessing a document through Google’s Web interface.