One Area Where Google Is Way Behind Microsoft

If Google really wants to compete with Microsoft for business customers, it’s going to have to get a lot better about support and documentation.

Today, Google released the beta of its Cloud Print service, which is supposed to let you print Gmail and Google Docs from any device, and send them to any Windows-connected printer in the world.

This could be really useful for people who do a lot of work away from their computers. As the Google Mobile Blog said this morning, “Imagine printing an important document from your smartphone on the way to work and finding the printout waiting for you when you walk in the door.”

Sounds great! If only I could get it to work.

To give you some idea how clunky the entire process was:

  • The Cloud Print homepage didn’t know which version of Chrome was being used — it kept saying to download the latest version, even when it was already installed.
  • Printing a test page failed, and that was it. There was no indication of why it failed, and no suggestions on what to do next.
  • The troubleshooting section of the help file mentioned a requirement for download something called the XML Paper Specification Essentials Pack from Microsoft. It would have been nice to mention that up front, but fine. Done.
  • After this, Cloud Print added a new printer called Microsoft XPS Document Writer as the default printer. Unfortunately, this was an imaginary printer. 
  • In the online Manage Print Settings page, there’s no menu item or option to search for or add a new printer by name.
  • Despite numerous attempts, Cloud Print won’t delete the imaginary printer, and the option to turn the service off doesn’t work.

It’s true that this is a free product, beta software doesn’t always work as expected, every computer and network is different, and so on.

But Google’s instructions and help centre for Cloud Print are so scanty and poorly thought out, there’s no way to tell what went wrong or how to fix it.

Microsoft has made a lot of ugly software that doesn’t work as expected. But at least it TRIES to offer useful documentation. At least it TRIES to provide real user help with wizards and troubleshooting apps when you have a problem — and often, the help actually works. At least it TRIES to focus on the user experience, and there are noticeable improvements with every release.

But here, it feels like Google barely thought through what could go wrong and how to fix it.

Documentation is hard. It’s ugly. It’s boring. It’s not the kind of job that hotshot engineers want to do to further their careers. But if you’re trying to help customers — especially business customers — solve complicated problems like printing over the Internet, it’s totally essential.

Microsoft has been doing this ugly work for more than two decades. Google is just getting started.

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