By now, I am sure most people know Google Docs is the online word processor. It solves the problem of managing multiple copies of the same file when sharing with multiple people. An introduction video by Google gave a very good example. If you need to share a file with three people by email, four copies of the same document will exist at the end. This is not a big deal if it is a one-to-many share. The problem comes as soon as one person starts modifying the content: how can you be sure you still have the latest copy?
The Google Docs approach is different. Instead of having multiple copies, only one copy of the document will be created and stored at Google’s security server. The owner/creator then select people to share the document with.
Since there is only one copy of the file, collaborators are strictly “accessing” the file–they don’t “own” a copy on their computer. This way, it’s sure that everyone with access to the file is looking at the latest and, more importantly, same version.
Google Docs is not perfect, however. At best I can only think of it as a super-cool rich text editor. It’s true that the sharing feature of Google Docs is impeccable, but it lacks many of the word processing features that seems standard on local word processor applications installed on most computer. For example, font choices are limited in Google Docs and users cannot install new fonts. Also, working with images is tricky. I can never quite get it the way I want it when aligning images in Google Docs. As a result, Google Docs, at least in the current state, will never replace my word processor.
However, I doubt that that was the true intention of the engineers when they created Google Docs. I think their main focus was to create a tool that improves our collaborative writing experience, which, in my opinion, they have succeed in doing.