Google Docs Gets Smartquote Controls

Google on Tuesday is adding two new features to Google Docs: The ability to translate documents into one of 53 languages and the ability to remove smartquotes.
Google on Tuesday is adding two new features to Google Docs: The ability to translate documents into one of 53 languages and the ability to remove smartquotes.Software engineer Lily Xia made the announcement in a blog post.

I'm particularly excited by the smartquote removal feature -- which will soon become a preference that allows smartquotes to be permanently disabled -- because it was a feature I and others asked for.

Several weeks ago I was attending a meeting at Google's San Francisco office with Dave Girouard, who runs Google's Enterprise group, and a number of other tech journalists. There wasn't any set discussion, but one of the subjects that came up was Google Docs.

I mentioned that I'd started using Google Docs to write stories for InformationWeek, having previously used various versions of Microsoft Word for decades. It turns out to be much more convenient to start an article at home and then open it at work without having to e-mail it to myself. But I confessed that I had switched back to Word because of the way Google Docs handled smartquotes.

Until today, regular quotation marks weren't an option in Google Docs.

And that presented a problem. Our content management system doesn't much care for smartquotes, which meant that after I had copied story text into our CMS, I had to go in and do a search-and-replace to convert the smartquotes to straight quotes so the story would render correctly. This extra bit of effort made using Word easier.

It turns out several of the other journalists at the meeting had similar problems.

Girouard was surprised. He said he'd look into it. And a few weeks later, Google Docs has become useful for me again.

This of course is one of the advantages of Google Docs that Google mentions frequently: rapid iteration.

I suspect that Microsoft would do the same were word to reach the right person at the company. But it would take longer. Microsoft Office releases only come every few years.

I doubt that Apple would be so open to suggested features. That's not really how it designs its software or hardware. Apple isn't big on open discussions with journalists or customers, even if Steve Jobs does respond to the occasional e-mail.

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