I was working on another project, one that required I read up on Google Apps, and a few things surprised me. In my experience with software like OpenOffice and Google Docs, I have found that it lacks the full functionality of the standard Office suite. But things are changing. Depending on your needs, you can get similar results with Google Apps; you just have to approach it differently.

Here are three Google features I was most excited about:

With optical character recognition, or OCR, PDFs are given a second chance.

1. OCR Recognition: Turning Hamburgers back into Cows

A colleague once described converting a PDF back to its original format as like turning a hamburger back into a cow. But with OCR in Google Docs, that metaphor doesn’t quite fit anymore. With optical character recognition, or OCR, PDFs are given a second chance.

How to upload and perform OCR

A few things to keep in mind before you begin: OCR is not foolproof; you will likely need to do some editing afterwards. Also, OCR works best with high-resolution images, and not all formatting may be preserved.

OK, on we go:

  1. In Google Docs main screen, click the Upload icon.
  2. Select the document you wish to convert. Suitable file types are PDF, JPG, GIF and PNG.
  3. In the Upload Settings dialog box, put a check in the box next to “Convert text from PDF and image files to Google documents.”
  4. This dialog also enables you to set the language of the documents you are uploading (more than 30 are available, including Finnish!); whether to convert non-image files such as Excel and Word, to Google Docs formats, and whether you want to save the settings as default.
  5. Click “start upload.”

Read more about it here.

2. Creating Pivot Tables

There are two kinds of people in this world: Those who know how to use pivot tables and those who don’t. If you are one of the latter, skip this section. If you heart pivots and would love to use them in Google Docs, you’ll be happy to hear that the feature is available. Visit the Google Docs Blog for a tutorial.

Notes: Keep in mind that pivot tables from Excel cannot be uploaded to Google spreadsheets at this time. Also, you can choose to have the pivot table updated immediately so that collaborators can view changes, or you can set update to manual mode.

For more on Google Docs pivot tables, read Google’s overview.

3. Creating “macros” with Google Apps Script

If you’ve recently moved from another software suite to Google Apps, and are worried about losing the ability to write and use macros, stop being silly. You haven’t lost the functionality. Enter Google Apps Script.
Google Apps Script enables you to automate tasks just like macros, from the simple (customizing spreadsheets with buttons or menus) to the complex (manipulating data in xml format).

Google has posted a plain-language overview here, as well as a handful of tutorials to help you get started.

Note: Google Apps Script includes objects and methods for controlling data in the following applications: Spreadsheets, Contacts, Finance, Calendar and Sites. Using scripts in Document List and Maps is experimental.


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