In its eternal struggle to replicate features that Microsoft 365 and even Office has had for aeons, Google Docs is getting – make sure you’re sitting down – collapsible headings.

This is good – it’ll keep documents from feeling cluttered or unruly, we’re just at a loss as to why it’s taken until 2023 for this to happen.

The announcement, posted on the Google Workspace updates blog, revealed that the change will arrive shortly for Google Workspace and Personal users but, as tends to happen to us, we found that the feature isn’t yet available for us specifically.

 Making a word processor fit for purpose

We’re not being contrarian for clicks when we assert that Google software has always been behind the times – whether it’s deciding to chase the AI zeitgeist after Microsoft finds success in that space or still lacking reorderable headings in the document outline, meaning I much prefer to first draft long-form work in Microsoft Word.

And it is a shame that Google is treating artificial intelligence (which, as we’re being urged to understand at the moment, is simply a form of machine learning) as the be all and end all. 

The best way to enhance a productivity tool isn’t to throw in features that trade on buzzwords and promises of a personal assistant to do your work for you. Less ambitious features, unconcerned with grabbing headlines but which are altogether more important at making work bearable.

Google is obviously going for a little from column A and and a little for column B with this approach. Its happy medium is something like the “smart chips” across Google Workspace, allowing documents to contain links to other ones, files, people, or events, making them better at centralising information.

The “smart chips” are good, in that “smart” here means “convenient” rather than “literally sentient”. I feel like I’m on a theme here,  having written about the ills of AI in office software relatively recently, but I might like to revise what I wrote there.

It’s not so much that I need to be dazzled by innovation to keep me conscious, I just need to be able to get through the day without wanting to throw my cloud-driven office software out of the window.

So, Google, take note: make it easy to export images from Docs without making me download a zipped .html file of the whole document, do the reorderable outline thing, and just generally step back in time to 2003. That all sounds reasonable.

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