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Mon, March 18

Google Docs helps with collaborative efforts

Q: Can I use Google Docs to share work on a report with a friend?

A: Yes. Google Docs is a free on-line program that offers collaboration as one of its main goals. Go to docs.google.com and begin writing the report or open a version of the report already created in Microsoft Office, LibreOffice, or the like. The program operates much like other office programs, but it operates online, not in your computer. Any collaborators will use the same version.

Click "File" and then "Share." You will be asked to supply email addresses for your collaborators. A message will be sent to those collaborators inviting them to edit the report. They click the address in the email and see the document. If you or they make changes while the other is viewing the document, both will see the changes. If you want to send an email to the collaborators to discuss the report while it is on the screen, click "File" and then "Email collaborators." If you do not like a change, click "File" and then "See revision history." A list will appear on the right side showing when the material was changed and who made the changes. Click the revision before the change you do not want, and the material will revert to the earlier version.

Google Docs offers most of the fonts, formatting options, special characters and the like as programs like Microsoft Office except it cannot include columns. They are still working on finding a way to do that. When finished, the document can be downloaded to each collaborator's computer in a variety of formats including PDF. Notice, the file is downloaded rather than saved since it is automatically saved as changes are made, but it is not saved to your computer until it is downloaded.

Watching the document suddenly change can be intriguing, but new ground rules are necessary to avoid the anger that can arise as you watch someone changing or erasing your work as fast as you can write.

Q: I do a lot of research on the internet, and I can't keep all my notes, links to web sites and other material together. Do you have a suggestion for anything that might help me get organized?

A. Yes, and it's free, at least up to a point. The program is called Evernote (http://evernote.com/evernote). Once you install Evernote, you must create an account with them for use of their Cloud services. Here's how it works. After installing, you will find a new item on your right click menu when you are on a web page. That item is Evernote web clipper. It gives three choices - Clip this page, Clip URL or New note. Click on one and the entire web page, just the URL or a note that you type in will be added to one of your Evernote notebooks.

You can install Evernote on more than one device - such as desktop, laptop, smartphone and iPad or Android tablet. And everything that you "clip" on any of those devices will appear on all your other devices. So, if you spot something on your smartphone while you are out, and clip it, it will be available to you on your desktop when you begin to work on your research material. It is all synchronized via the Evernote cloud service. The limit to how much you can clip for free is 60MB per month. See here for some details: http://blog.evernote.com/blog/2008/06/14/monthly-upload-allowance/. If you are a very avid researcher, you might want to get a Premium Evernote account (http://evernote.com/premium/) for $5 per month or $45 per year. That allows up to 1GB per month of clips. I usually just clip URLs - they're small and I've never reached the limit.

There is also a limit of 100,000 notes and 250 notebooks overall for your Evernote account. Not a real limitation I think. One more thing - I never clip anything sensitive - related to my finances, passwords or anything else I'd rather not lose. Evernote has been hacked, and required all users to reset their passwords recently. But I still use it - it's a great tool.

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