Getting The Most Out Of Google Apps

Google's cloud apps are free and "always there," but should a small-business owner really depend on them to run his or her entire business? We reveal tips and alternatives.
October 15, 2013

For small-business owners, Google apps are just the right price: free!

But should you really depend on these free cloud apps to run your business? Can they really replace the Microsoft Office and Apple suite of office products?

The biggest problem is that there's no technical support for these free apps. If you have any software or data issues, you're out of luck: This is truly a "fix it yourself" situation.

If small-business owners are going to use these apps for mission-critical applications, they should take a look at Google Apps for Business, the fee-based suite of apps that include technical support. Be aware that Google bundles all its apps together, so a company has to buy all of them, even if it's only using a few. But $50 per user per year for all the apps—whether you use them all or not—is competitive with other similar cloud offerings.

One other issue with Google apps is that many of them can only be used while you're online. (Google only offers offline editing for some of its apps for Chrome browser users.) And while the Internet is available in most places, if you or your employees can't access it, work productivity could suffer. There's also a learning curve to using these Cloud apps—they don't exactly match the form and function of the Microsoft Office products.

Tweaking the Apps

If Google really wants small businesses to get the most use out of its cloud apps, here are six areas where changes could be made that would help small-business users:

1. Gmail. Many small businesses loved Gmail until the "promotion" inbox scared them off—they're afraid their customers won't see their marketing emails. Mail categories assigned by Google are "primary," "social" and "promotion." But many small-business owners don't want their mail automatically separated because they're not sure where to look for a specific email, and there are now three inboxes to be checked. It's much more productive for users to set up their own categories and direct mail to the preferred inbox.

2. Docs. Collaboration features are highlighted for these apps, but how many times do two people really need to work on a document simultaneously? Better version control features would be more useful. Microsoft does a better job at this with the all-important red lining to track changes. Docs also needs to give users the ability to edit PDFs since this is becoming a very popular document format.

3. Sheets. This app is just plain awful. Basic functions, like showing a total for an amount included in multiple selected non-adjacent cells, is lacking. Cell selection and the formula editor need to be changed if any company is really going to use this.

4. Drive. When someone invites me to view a document, I don't know why I still need to request permission to view it. This seems like an unnecessary two-step process and slows down the sharing of documents. This second step needs to be eliminated.

5. Calendar. This app is full of functionality but confusing to learn. Coordinating the set-up with multiple people is complicated. Integration with Outlook would also be very helpful.

6. Slides. This app is still clunky and lacks the functionality of both PowerPoint and Keynote. There are very few sophisticated themes or templates. The app also limits the size of the files based on the space on users' Google Drive. This could be a problem for presentations with a lot of graphics or videos.

Do you use Google cloud apps? What do you like and dislike about them? Share your feedback in the comments below.

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