Tip: Make Google Docs Look and Work More Like Microsoft Office

Posted on April 17, 2015 by Paul Thurrott in Office with 0

Google Docs is among a handful of free solutions that could replace key parts of Microsoft Office, in this case Word. Here’s a quick series of steps you can take to make work iteven better and, if desired, take on a more familiar, Word-like look as well.

I started looking at Docs again in the course of investigating free alternatives to Microsoft Office recently, and in the resulting article, Thinking About Free Office, I noted that both Docs and Microsoft’s Office Online were excellent free contenders.

Both have some pros and cons, of course.

Office Online already provides the Office look and feel, of course, and the document templates it provides are identical to those in the desktop installable versions of Office. But you can’t use Office Online while your PC is offline. And in Word, in particular—understandably my primary concern—there’s no way to zoom the text, which is a strange omission.

Docs, meanwhile, provides both offline usage and the ability to zoom text. But by default, it doesn’t look or work anything like Office, and the text styles it uses are different.

I also don’t like that Docs only works with Google Drive, as I’m heavily invested in OneDrive and see no reason to change that. So while I won’t be using Docs going forward, I do understand that many readers will. And in the spirit of that understanding, I have a few tips that may be of interest.

Use Docs like a real Windows app

First, you should pin an application shortcut to your Windows taskbar using Chrome. This will enable you to use Docs in a more seamless way, side-by-side with “real” Windows applications. Not all web apps work well when you do this—some will trigger a separate browser window when you open a new document or whatever—but Docs works very well like this.

To do so, open Google Chrome and navigate to docs.google.com. Sign-in if needed and then select Menu (the hamburger menu icon in the upper right of the browser), More Tools, and then Create Application Shortcuts. The following pop-up will appear.


I usually only choose “Pin to Taskbar,” but make your choice and then click Create. A Google Docs icon will appear in your taskbar and you can resize the web app window as you wish. Now, you can open this “app” as you would any other apps, and create and edit word processing documents in the cloud as you would locally. It’s all self-contained in that one window.

Tip: Make Google Docs Look and Work More Like Microsoft Office

Use Docs offline

If you’re using Docs on a portable PC, you should configure Google Docs to work offline as well. That way, you can access that Docs web app even when you’re not connected to the Internet, such as when you’re in an airplane. To do so, click the Menu (again, hamburger icon) button in the top left of Google Docs to display the slide-out menu, and then click Settings.


Click “Turn on” under Offline Sync. This will launch a separate web browser window, giving you the opportunity to use Drive (in which Docs is hosted) offline. Just click Enable Offline and let it do its thing. (You will need to do this on each PC for which you use Docs/Drive.)

Change the styles to match Microsoft Office

As I did with Word 2016 for Mac—see A Matter of Style: Word 2013 for Windows vs. Word 2016 for Mac—I prefer for Docs to look and work like Microsoft Office. And to accomplish that, I edited a few text styles—Normal, Heading 1, Heading 2, and Heading 3—that I use regularly.

Why? Because the default styles in Docs are ugly, and they don’t work as they do in Word. For example, there’s no space after a “normal” paragraph, which can wreak havoc when I need to paste an article I’ve written into the content management system in my web site. In Word, there is spacing after each normal paragraph.

Changing the styles is pretty straightforward, and you can examine the properties for the corresponding styles in Microsoft Word so that you can approximate them in Docs. For example, here’s Heading 1.


To change Heading 1 in Docs to match, write a line of text, select it, and then start adjusting the front properties: Calibri for the font (Microsoft uses Calibri Light, but close enough) and the right color, which is #2E74B5. (The other attributes, like the point size and spacing before the style, are roughly correct already.) Then, with the text still selected, open the styles dropdown in Docs, click the arrow next to Heading 1, and choose “Update Heading 1 to Match.” Voila.


The other styles work similarly, but with Normal you will want to add spacing under the paragraph too. To do that, select the Line Spacing tool in the toolbar and then choose Add Space After Paragraph. Now we’re talking.


When you’re done editing the styles you use, open the Styles dropdown and choose Options and then Save As My Default Styles. Done.

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