Jeffery Osborns / The Torch

Lane Community College recently partnered up with Google to provide .edu email addresses for students. The accompanying “G Suite” package includes things like Docs, Sheets and Slides, which are roughly equivalent to Microsoft’s Word, Excel and PowerPoint software.

Though similar in concept and functionality, I would argue that Google’s G Suite is nimbler and more user-friendly than Microsoft’s hearty package. While G Suite’s programs are not as robust as Microsoft’s out of the box, they have virtually endless potential thanks to a feature called “add-ons.”

This is where G Suite’s nimbleness comes into play.

Microsoft keeps a pretty tight lock on their software which they manage by making users pay for the latest editions and jump through various hoops to even access a watered-down browser-based version that seems to mimic Google’s G Suite. Without renewing, the user loses access to almost all of the features and functions of the software and documents essentially become read-only.

In contrast, Google offers their email and suite services free, up-front to the consumer, including several add-ons. Though it could be debated as to whether anything on the web is actually free, especially as tuition-paying students, we won’t delve into that nuanced discussion here.

Add-ons are available in the menu bar of Google Docs. Once you click on the drop-down menu, you can go to “Get add-ons…” and select what are essentially after-market goodies that allow the user to customize their experience. You can narrow your search down by field, like business or education, and search for keywords or terms.

There are add-ons for seemingly everything — creating bibliographies, speech-to-text features, using new fonts, setting up a debate platform, checking formulas, daily Bible verse readings — truly the list is endless because add-ons are created regularly by developers in an open-source setup.

One solid add-on is called “Pro-Writing Aid,” which boasts over 12 functions from “grammar check” to “plagiarism check” and more. An especially helpful feature of the Pro-Writing Aid add-on is that it provides a summary report which is free even though most of the other features require the user to “pay to play,” meaning you must pay a subscription fee for the full version. The summary report breaks down your most-used words, most unique words and even uses algorithms to determine how your writing style compares in quality to other, similar papers.

In The Torch’s last edition I wrote about the importance of avoiding repetition. Using this tool could help with that. As could a thesaurus, also an add-on.

There are a lot of choices out there but do check the ratings for each add-on before selecting it to make sure it meets your needs and that it’s free from malware that could compromise your device and security.

Overall these add-ons seem to be a great tool for busy and hard-working students. With products like this at our digital fingertips, how could a student go wrong? On second thought, we won’t delve into that either.

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