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by Ray Carlson

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 GoogleDocs 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.

Published: Courier 3/17/13 - Page 3C