Monday, September 24, 2007

Browser App Printing

Inspiration for this post comes from a reader who recently used Google Documents to put together a job resume. When it came time to print, he had trouble. And his experience made me want to know more about this potential Achilles Heel for at least some browser-based applications.

(Printing from web-based office applications is a potentially huge topic, and so far it seems to have been ignored, so I'm starting off small with this first post, and look forward to building on the story.)

Job resumes comprise a category of documents where formatting is critical and that are often still printed, even in 2007. (Though of course many resumes will end up digitally scanned after their receipt by potential employers.) Microsoft Word has been "king" of resume creation for a generation, but what about the up-and-coming browser-based office applications? The activity in this area, led by Google and their growing suite of apps, is one of the hottest topics in the PC/IT world these days, with IBM firing the latest salvo just last week (see "I Hear a Symphony").

Microsoft is understandably on the defensive, firing back with rationale for users NOT to switch (see "10 Reasons Against Google Apps"). But interestingly, one of those reasons is NOT inadequate printing function.

Looking to recreate or refute the problems my reader found, I put together a sample resume based on the most popular resume template available from a Microsoft Office web site (over 1.5 million downloads). I printed it from Word 2003 and from Google Docs using the latest version of Firefox. Both jobs came from my Vista-based laptop and were printed on my HP (NYSE HPQ) LaserJet 1320. The results are presented in the image at the top of this post, with MS Word on the left, and Google Apps (uploaded from a Word file) on the right. Obviously, the Word version is exactly what I intended and the Google Apps version is a mess, most notably spanning a page-and-a-half rather than the intended one full page.

One problem with my test here, of course, is a built-in Microsoft bias, having downloaded the file from the company's web site, and then modifying it via their application. But they are the sitting king-of-the-hill and newcomers will be judged against the reigning leader.

I made no effort to improve the Google Apps print results this pass, and in the interest of full disclosure, other than the Google App's help advice to turn off the headers and footers that display url and page info, there seems to be nothing else I could have done. (See graphic below.) So if you're coming from a MS Word world, be prepared.

The reality is, this shouldn't be surprising. Most users will probably assume they can use Google Apps for the info gathering stage, and then export to Word for final formatting and printing.

But the broader topic of printing from web-based apps calls for an ongoing look, including pulling in other Word competitors from Zoho and IBM Symphony, as well as spreadsheet and presentation rivals. Stay tuned!

(NOTE: Please double click images to get a better view!)


Anonymous said...

Hi Jim,

an interesting post (even though the samples don't seem to show on my Firefox Browser.) Given that Google is rolling out Apps now to small businesses, there is a huge opportunity to be filled here ;)


Oliver Fritsch
(From Berlin)

Anonymous said...

Printing of HTML can be addressed through careful CSS design to some extent. I'm surprised they. I am surprised they left this gap.

Jim Lyons said...

Apologies on the missing images. I've run into a glitch that has caused the photos to disappear, and as I am traveling I won't be able to restore it for a couple of days. Please bear with me! The top image shows the Word print and the Google Docs print side-by-side, and the lower image shows the Google Print Help screen.

Jim Lyons said...

Images are back --Sept 27, 930am MDT.