Having spent the last twenty years using computers in classrooms, I think I have some knowledge about what the average student, teacher, and administrator need from their computers. These years of experience as both student and educator have all been utilizing primarily Microsoft options. I’ve been a MS user and for the most part liked it all those year. I dabbled with Linux. Could see the potential but wasn’t convinced it was the alternative to get out from under Micro Squash.
Having grown up with the barely evolving user interface of windows products, I’m a big fan of Shortcut keys. I’ve prided myself in learning the most efficient way to manage all the open windows, text editing, file manipulation, and browser navigation. We even had an informal learning network at my school, The Control+D Club. It consisted of a few nerdy teachers who had a similar interest in discovering and sharing the more nuanced shortcut keys found in programs. We’d have impromptu meetings in the hallways between bells whenever someone learned something new.
Now I’m at a crossroad. As I explore the internet’s constantly growing app websites and my newly purchased iMac… do I drop the Microsoft productivity programs for google docs, prezi, penzu, etherpad and thousands other cloud-based computing options? This is what I’ve learned from the experience so far.
Price and Portability: This is really what is comes down to. Office has a price, Google docs is portable. $150 for MS Office for Mac. I could purchase the Mac alternative programs, Pages, Keynote, and Numbers for $60 from the Mac App Store but I may not do that either. The reason? I can do all the things I want to do using Google Docs for free and it is completely portable, as in truly cloud based. As an avid spreadsheet programmer and word processor, I’m reluctant to say it, but I’m convinced that the portability of google docs outweighs the additional functionality of Office. There really isn’t a lot of loss in functions anyway. The hardest thing for me to accept is that google docs has a very limited number of shortcut keys. That’s it! Thinking about the people and students that I’ve worked with over the years, the shortcuts that are missing, won’t be missed by any of them outside of my circle of “Control+D” members.
Now I’m sure someone could get into an argument with me about pivot tables and mail merges and expect me to flinch or even run back to a corner and accept defeat from the great and mighty Microsoft. They would of corse be correct in their argument about features. But they, like myself and the Control+D club, are not the majority of users. And even the productivity nerds themselves don’t need these uber-advanced features daily. The truth is google created productivity apps that meet the needs of users. If there is a need that isn’t met with google docs, you will likely find another app that can. If you can’t then you’ve found the idea for a profitable app program.
This is the future of software. A-la-carte style. You may use google docs for years and then discover that you need some advanced feature that just isn’t present. You will search and be led to an app that will do what you need, and you will either decide to pay a few dollars for that app, or find another way to do what you wanted to do, or give up on the idea. The user is going to be more savvy about their needs and only pay for what they will actually use or at least think they will use.
When I honestly asses all the computing that I’ve done as a Biochemistry student at Michigan State University, Peace Corps Volunteer in West Africa (yes there were computers… somehow), Museum Educator in Metro Detroit, and Chemistry Teacher in Charlotte, I see a lot of productivity needs. I also see that I could have done all of it with Google docs (apart from some crazy spreadsheet programming that I did to track attendance at the museum that was really a bloated waste of time I’m embarrassed to admit I worked as long as I did on it.) The reality is that, had it been available, the cloud computing alternatives to Office would have suited all of my needs, been portable, and costed me nothing to use and would have saved a lot of time.
Up next… the collaboration of google vs. MSOffice’s track changes. “Hey, did anyone know you could track changes in Office? We’ll you just click on tools, track changes, and now when you type it will highlight what you… Ok, just save it as ‘draft2’ and I’ll compare the two documents when you finish.” You’ve been a part of this conversation at some point.