©2015 Donald R. Snow

This page was last updated 2015-07-10.

These Freeware Corner notes are published in TAGGology, our Utah Valley Technology and Genealogy Group (UVTAGG) monthly newsletter, and are posted on  where there may be corrections or updates.


Last month’s Freeware Corner note was on Google Docs, the free office programs in Google.  As mentioned, there are many helpful and free Google Docs tutorials online, such as -- .  You use your free Google account to access Google Docs or Google Drive to form new documents, edit those you already have, share files, or upload files to store them.  Your Google documents (text, slides, and sheets) are stored in Google Drive which is a free website “in the cloud” like Dropbox.  Google gives you 15 gigabytes of free space to store your files and you can buy more, if you need it, but 15 gigs stores a lot of files.  It is important to note the difference between storing files in the cloud and backing up files there -- Google Drive stores your files, but you have to upload them and they remain there, available to you on any Internet-connected computer.  Backing up files is done by a program to store your latest version of a file online somewhere, but it only remains there while the file itself is on your computer and for a short time afterwards, so you can recover it, if your computer crashes, for example.  Both are useful services to use.


To get to Google Drive go to  and sign in with your Google account.  Click on the 3x3-dot “apps” icon (upper right corner) and select Drive, Docs (texts), Slides (presentations), or Sheets (spreadsheets).  If you go to Google Drive you will see all the files and folders you have there, documents and files you have uploaded yourself.  Clicking on any document opens the correct program and gets it ready for you to edit.  Clicking on My Drive (upper left) shows you buttons to form new folders, start new documents, or upload files.  New documents and files will be placed in the folder you are in when clicking on the New button, but they can be moved by dragging-and-dropping.  You can rename a file by right-clicking it and selecting “Rename” or by opening it and using Save As.  Since you only see an abbreviated portion of the title under the picture of the file in the Grid View, naming your files with crucial information at the start will make them easier to recognize there.  There is also a List View icon (upper right corner) where you see a list with the entire file or document names.  To see all the files in the folder click the “lined” icon at the upper-left.  The last document you had open will be the first one in the list, last edited is first listed. Two copies of Google Docs can be open in separate tabs in your browser, or even in different browsers, so you can go back and forth between documents without losing your place and all edits done in one show in the other, just like two people seeing the same document on two different computers and either one editing it.  This is handy for writing and editing.  You need to keep in mind that Google Docs is an online service so you need Internet access to use it.


These can be text files or slides for a presentation or sheets for a spreadsheet.  When you upload a file such as a doc, docx, or rtf file, it becomes editable in Google Docs.  Google claims that now you can edit Microsoft Word, Powerpoint, and Excel files in Google Docs and save them in their original form, but I haven’t found that this works very well.  More comments on this below.  You can change a document’s format properties such as margins, text font, size, mode, and viewing size on the screen, by clicking on  File > Page Setup.  To start a new document click on the Plus “+” icon at the lower right corner or else right-click and select New in the Context Menu (the “Right-Click menu”).  Google Docs saves files you are working on automatically, so you never have to worry about whether you have saved the latest version.  The pencil icon (upper right corner) has editing and viewing modes.  The Viewing mode shows what it will look like in the final form, including active Internet links.  To delete sentences or tables, etc., right click on them and select Delete.  Last month’s Freeware Corner notes had more information on writing and editing text documents.  


To share a file with someone open it and click the Share button (upper right corner).  It will ask for their name and email address, whether you want them to be able to edit or just read the document, and what you want to say in your email to them.  It sends them your email note with an invitation to view and/or edit the document, whatever you have selected.  When you share and allow editing with one or more people, they each have access to see and edit the document, so you can all work on the same document at the same time and each sees all the changes as they occur.


Google Slides (“presentation”) is the “Powerpoint” feature in Google Docs.  You can generate a new slideshow or upload a Microsoft Powerpoint and edit it in Google Docs.  As I mentioned above, the new feature that claims you can edit and save Microsoft Word, Powerpoint, or Excel files, doesn’t seem to work very well for me; it’s very slow and they don’t always keep the same formatting, nor do they save properly.  Perhaps a better use of Google Slides would be to make simple presentation files without many fancy features.  They would then be available to show on any computer connected to the Internet, so you wouldn’t need Powerpoint, nor even LibreOffice which is free and will show Powerpoints.  The Google slides are fairly easy to make since most of the tool icons are on the bar at the top and by right-clicking on a slide you get additional background, theme, and transition effects for the slides.  It has a simple way of including speaker notes so when you play the slideshow you see a window with the speaker comments separate from the main slide screen.  The Speaker Notes window also has a timer on it so you can see how long you have been talking and it can show thumbnails of the previous and next slides so you can see what’s coming up.  Since it’s fairly easy to use, it seems to have its place, but not for complicated Powerpoints.


Google Sheets is the spreadsheet program in Google Docs and, like Google Slides, it claims to handle Microsoft Excel files, but my experience is that it is very slow and doesn’t work very well.  Again, perhaps a better use for Google Sheets is when you don’t need too many fancy features in your spreadsheet and perhaps you want others to be able to read and edit it, as well.  In our family we use Google Sheets for several things.  These include a contact list for the addresses, phones, and emails of everyone.  All the adults have permission to update this, so it makes it easy to keep track of everyone’s information.  We also use Google Docs when planning family reunions to see who is planning on being there, when they are arriving and leaving, what the food assignments are, etc.  We also have a Google sheet set up that lists all our past family reunions, where they were, when, and who the planners were for each of them.  We have a couple of sheets set up that give the history of running jokes in the family.  None of these requires many fancy spreadsheet features and they are available to everyone in the family to read and those old enough to update.


Google Docs has some helpful uses in genealogy and is worth learning.  It uses many of the standard commands from Windows like other word processors or presentation and spreadsheet programs.  Google Drive and Google Docs make your files available to you on any computer connected to the Internet and by inviting others, they can be shared and edited by others.

[Note:  I have written these two articles about Google Docs in Google Docs to see how it went.  I usually use Evernote to write articles, but this seems to work fine too.  I find it easier to write all the text with minimal formatting and then at the end go through and change the font on section titles, etc.]