Does your business really need a copy of Microsoft's Office? Google Docs could deliver the office suite your enterprise needs and all for free

For decades Microsoft's Office Suite reigned supreme. Every business uses a word processor and spreadsheet, and with few alternatives, Office had become the default choice. However, as the Internet – and the business services it could deliver – expanded, many began to question whether an installed application like Microsoft Word was able to deliver the services businesses today need.

Over the last two years application have been moving off desktop installed software and onto software hosted in the cloud, where they could be used on any device connected to the Internet. And that's the power for small businesses. You don't have to spend hundreds on software licences, as Google Docs contains a fully featured word processor, spreadsheet and presentation application.

Create, view and edit on any device from anywhere
Create, view and edit on any device from anywhere

Google Docs is part of Google Apps that are a suite of applications that can help your business work smarter. Small businesses can start using Google Docs for free, or add additional features for $5 per user a month. You can view an overview of Google Apps via this YouTube video and there's an online calculator to help you decide on how much you'll save with Google.

Putting your docs on the web

A service like Google Docs offers a great opportunity to small businesses that want to reduce their start-up and running costs. Once you have created a Google.com account – if you use Gmail you already have an account you can use with Google Docs – you can begin to create, store and most importantly, share the documents you have created.

The power of moving your documents, presentations and spreadsheets to the cloud is versatility. Your business no longer needs to concern itself with data storage or backup as this is handled by Google. If you have a smart phone, tablet PC or work on a variety of desktops at different locations, all you need to do is open an Internet browser to start editing or creating new documents.

Google Docs offers all the same functions as a desktop suite
Google Docs offers all the same functions as a desktop suite

And if you thought switching to Google Docs means moving away from the industry standards your business, its commercial partners and customers use, think again as Google Docs is fully compatible. With Google Docs you can:

  • Convert most file types to Google Docs format
  • Invite other people to collaborate on a doc with you, giving them edit, comment or view access.
  • Collaborate online in real time and chat with other collaborators.
  • View your documents' revision history and roll back to any version.
  • Download Google Docs to your desktop as Word, OpenOffice, RTF, PDF, HTML or zip files.
  • Translate a document to a different language.
  • Email your documents to other people as attachments.

Big business has been quick to realise the advantages they can gain by moving to Google Docs and embracing the cloud, The Guardian and Telegraph newspapers, Trinity Mirror and ITN have all embraced Google Docs over the last couple of years.

Crunching the numbers

For spreadsheet users Google Docs offers all of the basic editing features you would expect from Excel, but offers a whole new level of collaboration with other users. Need to chat in real time about a spreadsheet with a colleague? You can with Google Docs.

Create and edit spreadsheets and share information via chat
Create spreadsheets and share information via chat

The spreadsheet application offers:

  • Import and convert .xls, .csv, .txt and .ods formatted data.
  • Export .xls, .csv, .txt and .ods formatted data and PDF and HTML files.
  • Use formatting and formula editing so you can calculate results and make your data look good.
  • Chat in real time with others who are editing your spreadsheet.
  • Create charts and gadgets.
  • Embed a spreadsheet, or individual sheets of your spreadsheet, in your blog or website.

Collaborate and present

The last of the office application trinity is the presentation. Google Docs presentations are equally fully featured offering:

  • Share presentations with your friends and co-workers.
  • Upload and convert existing presentations to Google Docs format.
  • Download your presentations as a .pdf, .pptx, or a .txt file.
  • Insert images and videos, and format your slides.
  • Publish and embed your presentations in a website, allowing access to a wide audience.
  • Draw organisational charts, flowcharts, design diagrams and much more right within a presentation.
  • Add slide transitions, animations, and themes to create show-stopping presentations.

For new businesses Google Docs is a godsend. With the vast majority of users reporting that they use less than 10 percent of the features on offer within the Microsoft Office suite, Google Docs enables your business to spend less time learning how to use software and more time using these applications to run your enterprise.