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1/31/2011
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Google Docs Gets Facelift

A revamped interface for Google Docs promises to promote greater productivity.

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Google on Monday released a revised interface for Google Docs that aims to simplify file navigation and interaction.

The design refresh was spotted a week ago as it was being tested by Alex Chitu, who maintains the Google Operating System blog. Docs users should see the changes soon, if not today.

A year ago, Docs gained the ability to store a wide variety of files, far more than it can actually display. Docs product manager Vijay Bangaru observes that this has made it more difficult to organize files and access them quickly. The interface changes, he says, represent an attempt to make files more manageable.

Docs now has a larger number of built-in filters to make it easier to winnow a pile of files down to a handful. In addition to old standby filters like "Owned by me," users now have access to filters such as "Public on the Web," "Not in collections," or they can filter by document type. There are also filters for "Images" and "Videos."

In addition, users have the option of applying "priority sorting" in any view. This option attempts to surface the most relevant documents, based on the relevance algorithm used in Gmail's Priority Inbox.

File browsing has also been improved through the addition of a preview panel on the right side of the document list. Videos can be played directly from the preview panel. Also, users now have the option to use familiar desktop commands for file selection -- Shift or Control, or Command for Mac users -- instead of check boxes.

There's a new view called Home that users can customize so that it shows only a desired set of files.

The Folder desktop metaphor has been replaced by Collections. "Collections are designed to combine the best features of labels and folders," wrote Bangaru in a blog post. "A file can live in multiple collections, just like with Gmail labels. Collections can also be stored hierarchically, just like folders on your desktop."

Docs users will see these changes in the next few days. If you're a Google Apps For Business customer and you haven't chosen to enable pre-release features, you'll have to wait a few weeks.

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