Google Docs for TidBITS articles

@ace Tangential to The best Mac Site Specific Brower for Google Docs and sorry if covered in a previous article I missed.

When I read this article it made me wonder why Tidbits is using Google Docs for article generation compared to Pages. I know Google has had collaboration for much longer, but my general understanding was that Apple’s Pages and the web-based versions had become much closer competitors in the collaboration area in recent years.

Maybe not worth a whole article, but Adam if you’ve ever made a quick and dirty list of must-have features needed for Tidbits editing, and found where iCloud/Pages falls short, I’d find it interesting to at least know the current state.

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I must admit that I haven’t continued to try Pages repeatedly over the years, but it has never worked well for the kind of quick collaboration we need. It’s possible that there would be ways of simulating what we do in Google Docs with some combination of Pages and iCloud Drive folder sharing, but without any reason to switch, we haven’t attempted it.

  • I’m just not that fond of Pages. It’s OK, but if I need a full-fledged word processor, I’ll always launch Nisus Writer Pro preferentially. Now there’s an enjoyable word processor!

  • Pages has vastly more power, particularly in terms of page layout and long documents, than we need for TidBITS articles. Sometimes you can just ignore all that, but other times, it actively gets in the way. Google Docs is much more suited to article writing.

  • Having Google Drive collect all our drafts in a single place has long been helpful. Again, this could perhaps be simulated via iCloud Drive, but iCloud Drive gets stuck periodically, which might be an issue in heavier use. (I’m down on Dropbox now that they require a $9.99 per month payment just to have it work on more than three devices, regardless of how much space you need.)

  • The few times I have used Pages for collaboration, it hasn’t been as tight as Google Docs. Files can be open or closed, there are occasionally messages about sharing, you sometimes have to explicitly share documents rather than just having them in a shared folder, and so on.

  • To tease that point out a little more, one of the things I like about Gmail is how it is truth. You don’t check for and wait for new mail to come in—it’s either there or not. Google Docs is the same way—the document is truth. With Pages, I presume that the original document that’s shared is truth, and everyone else gets a copy of that. Regardless, changes have to flow from one copy of Pages to iCloud and back down to all the other copies of Pages that might have the document open. That can be fast, but it’s never going to be as fast and seamless as Google Docs, where the document you’re looking at is the only one that exists. You can even see people editing in real time in Google Docs, moving the cursor and selecting text and that sort of thing. That’s not a big help, but it show just out tight Google Docs is.

  • I quite like the way Google Docs looks up URLs when you select some text and hit Command-K. For selected company and product names, it’s almost always spot on, which saves some time from copying and pasting the URL.

  • Grammarly doesn’t work with Pages. That’s not the end of the world—we could run it in WordPress when we publish, but I like running it earlier in the editing process.

In the end, while I suspect Pages could do what we need, it’s not clear to me that it does much of anything better than Google Docs, making it hard to put the effort into a switch.

I quadruple the cheers for Nisus Writer Pro, which I learned about from TidBITS a number of years ago. Got me through a lot of sermon preparations and it was so nice to easily set up a word processor meet my requirements, not those of a programer who was designing for one size fits all. So great to just click on an icon on the toolbar to automatically select Greek, Hebrew or any other font for text, easily designate key strokes for a variety of purposes, etc. etc. I will always be grateful to you Adam because it was through your comments I purchased Nisus Writer Pro and oh the hours of work it saved!!

Also, I too have found Pages unsatisfactory to work with because it just didn’t have the flexibility I needed - I always felt constrained by its structure and design. The one thing I find Pages useful for is to work with documents between iOS and OS, but I try to avoid that as much a possible. I only used Google Docs a couple of times but that was of necessity because it was for collaboration.

Maybe because I started out using MS Word & Excel on SE30s, I’ve found Pages and Numbers to be counter intuitive and clunky. Layouts are difficult to structure and manage. Even if I save something as a .docx or .doc, it doesn’t look right when opened in Word. Same with spreadsheets. And the results are better when importing Excel spreadsheets into a Word document.

And given Apple’s history as a leader in desktop typography and page design, I’ve found Pages can get rather obstinate if you’re trying out different typefaces and sizes. Overall, I’ve found Pages and Numbers create too much drama for me.

Interesting takes, thanks. I admit I haven’t stayed up to date or tried the collaboration features of iCloud/Pages/Numbers.

Just as a counterpoint to some of the other responses, I have come to enjoy using Pages/Numbers compared to the the days of always booting up Word, and I do mean it felt like booting up whenever I had to start it. I haven’t used Pages or Numbers for any large projects (ie books or running a small company), but overall I’ve very happy with them. I probably wouldn’t try to create some of the massive, complex spreadsheets I’ve seen in the corporate world in Excel over the years, but honestly they weren’t what I would consider a good idea to begin with.

I do remember a bit of a learning process with Pages/NUmbers at first compared to Word, but I took that to be the more page layout nature of it vs Word. By now it seems very intuitive for my needs.


I agree with Angus. I use Pages/Numbers/Keynote for documents under 10 pages long, and once I got used to the differences, I like these apps much more than their Microsoft equivalents.

For what it’s worth, I’d probably use Pages over Word, if that were the choice, though I’d pick Nisus Writer Pro over both. I tend to stick to Excel over Numbers unless there’s charting involved, since Numbers always slightly confuses me.

But realistically, those are never the questions for me. It’s all about sharing data and collaboration, and for that Google Doc and Google Sheets (particularly as the back end to a Google Form) beat everything else, hands down.


Ultimately, the best tool is the one with which you can be most productive. Everything else is secondary as a means to that end.

I use Microsoft Office because I’ve been using it for a very long time (going all the way back to Word for MS-DOS in 1987), so I am intimately familiar with Microsoft’s feature set and their design principles (even though the UI has changed a few times over the years).

I have no doubt that someone else could be just as productive using iWork, Google Docs, LibreOffice or any other modern office suite, but for me, it would require an extended learning curve.

FWIW, Microsoft also has a very good sharing/collaboration system. If your document is stored on OneDrive (or SharePoint - the corporate equivalent) and you share it with others, you can all open the document simultaneously (with the desktop, mobile or web versions of the apps) and you’ll see it dynamically update as other people make edits.

FWIW, I work for a company (Salesforce) that offers a collaborative writing tool, Quip. We acquired them a few years ago, and their CEO is now our COO. So, as a company we officially like love Quip, and it’s the preferred, recommended, semi-demanded tool for internally shared documents. (Of which there are, literally, millions.)

And I use Google Docs instead, whenever it’s me creating the document. 100% of the time.

I’m a technical writer (writing documentation for developers), and collaborative writing, editing, and technical reviews is a given. That’s the job.

And IMHO, nothing comes close to Google Docs, for the “one primary author, multiple editors and reviewers” use case. It’s just about perfect.

Sure, there are quirks, and it’s not a native app. But as Adam described so well, there are benefits you just can’t get with a native app, when the collaboration is the focus. I think that’s true whether you’re distributed around the world, or just across cubicles (should that day ever return).

There’s plenty of things I don’t/won’t use Google Docs for. I kinda like Pages, when I want something more layout/design-intensive.

But for collaborating with others, no hesitation, or desire to even try anything else at this point. Google Docs is just that good already.


Using Apple’s collaboration capabilities within iCloud with Shared Folders; along with Numbers; Pages; and Keynote capabilities has a couple of benefits Google Docs doesn’t have.
Namely the document can viewed/edited in a web browser (any computer), or directly using the native app on a Mac computer or iPad or iPhone.
One of the advantages is the Revert To option (which Gdocs has); but with Apple one can (for example) copy a paragraph from a previous version into the current version, simply with a copy and paste whilst in the process of looking at past saved states.
Very handy, especially with a Numbers table full of calculations that was inadvertently deleted.
Another, specifically with Pages, is a document can be a Word Processing (like MSword) or a Page Layout style.
Many people are not aware of the improvements Apple have made with its (iWork) Apps over the years, it is amazing what they’ve done.
I’ve come from a long background of typesetting using QuarkExpress, InDesign, and now Affinity Publisher. Pages now has many features that cover all my needs for many of my document requirements and only use Affinity Publisher for my high end projects.
Pages & Numbers (I don’t use Keynote) have capabilities far beyond what most users need, but shows when first launched a seemingly simple interface.
For example, how many users of Pages know one can kern the space between characters (in a word, line or paragraph)?
Bonus tip: re TextEdit … installed on everyone’s Mac for decades … how many know it can open and save .docx files? As well as other formats.
Plus, the Apple products keep getting updated for free!