March 28, 2011, 9:07 PM — A common criticism of Google Docs when it first launched was that it was primitive. Its word processor was barely better than WordPad, for example, which has been free with Windows since the 1980s.
In some ways this was part of Google's plan. Competing with Microsoft Office was desirable but only after they'd pulled the rug from under Microsoft's feet with Docs' killer feature: collaborative editing and document sharing. No need for an expensive Sharepoint server to work on docs with colleagues--all you need is a browser.
However, none of that stopped Google gradually introducing Office-like features as time has gone on. Recently it's added two features to the spreadsheet tool that--for me, at least--make the app a complete package.
The first feature is filtering. Sophisticated users shouldn't get their hopes up, howeverl; the filtering is essentially AutoFiltering, as found in Excel, although a little easier to use. But it's not possible to filter via "greater than" or "lesser than" values, for example, or to apply additional sub-filters.
Those to whom spreadsheets are an undiscovered country should know that filtering provides the ability to sort data within tables, and also pick out data by row headings. Setting up a filter is automatic; once the filter button on the toolbar is clicked within a table (it's at the far right of the toolbar), Docs will work out the range of data the filter should be applied to, although filters can also be applied solely to selected columns.
For example, say you have a table in a spreadsheet displaying sales staff alongside the figures they've achieved for various regions. Applying a filter would allow you to hive off one or more individuals to examine their figures in isolation, or to sort the regional figures by smallest to largest (or vice versa) at a single-click. Crucially, none of the changes are permanent, allowing for flexibility, and the filter can be removed at any time; just click the Filter button again.