Around 5:18 p.m. Eastern yesterday, as I was rifling through a series of late posts on stocks that had moved 10% or more during the day, the file list for Google's (Nasdaq: GOOG ) Docs service failed. The entire system failed shortly thereafter.
Surprisingly, I wasn't angry. I wasn't even frustrated. More than anything, I was confused. Paralyzed by the total commitment I'd given to Docs two months after switching from the Mac edition of Microsoft's (Nasdaq: MSFT ) Office.
A stranger in an eerily familiar land
After notifying our gracious evening editor of my problem via instant messaging, I found myself mostly waiting for Google to fix the problem. And I mean instantly. Every 60 seconds or so I'd refresh the screen in hopes that the "404" error would disappear, replaced by my lengthy list of folders and documents.
Within 15 minutes I realized I had no choice. Either boot up Word and get back to typing, or try to explain why I didn't file the three articles still assigned to me. Prizing my job and the paycheck it comes with, I dove back into Word -- and found it to be just as slow as I remembered.
To be fair, functionality (or lack thereof) isn't why I switched. Microsoft Word is plenty functional. Much more so than Google Docs in most cases. But it isn't nearly as convenient or intuitive. Docs makes files easy to find because of Google's search prowess, and cloud storage means I can start an article on my Mac, continue it on my Android tablet, and finish it with my Chromebook.
What Google Docs lacks in functionality it more than makes up for in flexibility. As a working dad, I'd rather have elegantly simple software I can access anywhere.
How Google grabbed me
The simple truth is that I find Google to be almost as good at software design as Apple (Nasdaq: AAPL ) is at systems design. So much so that I've become addicted to not only Docs, but also Gmail, Maps, Chrome, and Reader, among other services. (Google+ is winning me over, too.) In each case, here's what ensnared me originally:
- Gmail. After a long and tumultuous relationship with Microsoft's Entourage -- which I found to be slow and terrible at finding messages -- I decided to switch to Apple's Mail, which wasn't very good at managing HTML signatures. Gmail was fast, handled HTML deftly, had archiving so I could clear my inbox without deleting everything, and displayed messages in context via threaded conversations. I fell in love almost instantly.
- Docs. I never would have committed to Docs if I didn't have a Chromebook and Android tablet. But once these tools were in my possession, I saw the beauty of working seamlessly between machines. Also, Docs was simply better at archiving and included more intuitive features for adding links and comments. Sharing hasn't meant much to me yet, but I can see why teams love Docs' collaborative features.
- Maps. As functional as I know Garmin's (Nasdaq: GRMN ) GPS devices can be, I've never had the desire to purchase one. I don't drive enough to make it worthwhile. Besides, the browser-based version of Maps on the iPhone is functionally sufficient if you've got a navigator for a long road trip. The ability to store and retrieve maps created from the desktop was also a winner for me.
- Chrome. Google's browser became attractive when Firefox got too slow to be functional, loaded down by extensions that crimped performance. But if speed is why I migrated to Chrome, I've stayed because of its ability to handle HTML5 apps as if they were native apps. I've all but sworn off software based on Adobe's (Nasdaq: ADBE ) AIR virtual machine as result. Chrome is more efficient.
- Reader. There aren't many functional differences between RSS readers. What set Google Reader apart for me was its inclusion of social features. I can see what those I'm connected to are reading and what they recommend -- a nice add, especially since I follow a lot of people who are smarter than I am.
A doctor for my Docs addiction?
By the time the outage ended an hour after it began, I had used Word to write two of the three remaining articles that were due. I didn't hesitate to switch back to Docs to write the final. I'd had enough of Mr. Softy's stuff.
And while writing in Docs again settled my nerves, I had to admit that I'd become addicted in a particularly unhealthy way. What happens if Docs goes down for a day? Two days? I know that's unlikely, but as InformationWeek's Thomas Claburn points out here, the end of Google Gears means there's no mechanism for editing or creating new documents while offline. For that, I'll need Word.
Color me nervous, and thrilled. For as much as the geek in me loathes the idea of another Docs gaffe, my addictive tendencies tell me something important as an investor. Something similar to what I learned when I forgot how to use a DVD player. Docs may be simplistic, limiting, or even flawed. But as user, I've adopted cloud-delivered software as my New Normal.
I'm depending on you, Google. Don't let me down.
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