How Google Docs Works

Google Docs Features and Limitations

System requirements for Google Docs are pretty simple. The only thing you have to worry about is your Web browser. Google Docs is compatible with Internet Explorer version 6 or greater, Firefox version 1.07 or higher (but not Firefox 3) and Safari 3.1 or higher. Google doesn't support Google Docs for any other browsers at the moment, so there's a good chance it won't run on them. In addition, you must enable Javascript and cookies to use the applications.

To access Google Docs, you need to create a Google account. Google accounts are free. All you need is a valid e-mail address -- and the willingness to agree to Google's terms of service -- to create one. If you've signed up for Gmail, you already have a Google account. The account gives you access to many Google applications, besides Google Docs.


With an account, users can either create a new document, spreadsheet or presentation or upload an existing file to the system. Google Docs is compatible with the following file formats:

  • Comma Separated Value files (.csv)
  • Hypertext markup language (HTML) files
  • Microsoft Word, PowerPoint and Excel files (.doc, .ppt or .pps, and .xls, respectively)
  • OpenDocument Text and Spreadsheet formats (.odt and .ods, respectively)
  • Rich text format (.rtf)
  • StarOffice documents (.sxw)
  • Text files (.txt)

Users can also create documents by e-mailing them directly to a unique address based on the name they registered when creating their Google accounts. Google assigns a long string of numbers and letters to each e-mail address to ensure each one is unique. Google Docs uses the subject of the e-mail as the document's name and converts the contents into a document. You can also attach files in an e-mail and send them to your assigned address. Google Docs converts all file attachments into HTML format and saves them to your account.

You become the owner of any file you create or import into Google Docs. Owners can edit and delete files and invite collaborators and viewers. Collaborators can edit and export files. The owner can also choose to give collaborators the ability to invite other collaborators into a project. Viewers can look at files and export them, but aren't allowed to make edits.

The organizational approach for Google Docs is a simple file-and-folder system. You can create folders and subfolders for all your files. Google provides you multiple ways to sort data, including alphabetically or by the latest updates.

Google Docs users get a lot of storage space with their accounts, but it's not unlimited. Each account can have up to:

  • 5,000 documents of up to 500 kilobytes each
  • 1,000 spreadsheets of up to 1 megabyte each
  • 5,000 presentations of up to 10 megabytes each

Google's corporate mission is to organize the world's information. With that in mind, the company has integrated some of its organizational and search capabilities into Google Docs. How can Google Docs take advantage of these technologies? Find out in the next section.