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Microsoft Office or Google Docs?

Walt Mossberg discusses productivity suites, and how you can track your steps on an iPhone without a fitness band.

You have some tech questions, I have some answers. Every Friday, I try to resolve these mysteries, succinctly and in plain language. Please send questions to Note that I won’t be able to diagnose your personal tech glitches and problems. I also reserve the right to edit questions for length or clarity, and to combine similar inquiries.

Q. I am wondering whether you advise using Microsoft Office or adopting Google Docs. I am leaning toward the latter because it’s free.

A. It depends on your needs, and your budget. Google Docs, the online office suite that is now an embedded part of Google Drive, is free. Office has various prices, but is typically now sold as a subscription for $99 a year.

Google’s suite is capable, and has excellent collaboration features, including the ability for multiple people to simultaneously edit. But it is fairly basic. Office is a highly developed, rich set of software with many more features, and some collaboration capabilities. For instance, you can save from Office to Microsoft’s online storage service, OneDrive, edit them in online versions of the Office programs, and invite others to edit them.

So, if your budget is very tight and/or you only need basic capabilities, Google’s offering might do the trick.

But there’s a big catch: While Google Docs has been gaining adherents, Office is still the standard, especially the Office document formats. And, sadly, Google’s suite can’t edit Office docs directly. You must first convert them to Google’s format, and then, if you choose, export them back to a Microsoft format. Along the way, you risk losing some fidelity or formatting, especially in complex spreadsheets or presentations. This may be a big deal if you are sharing the files with others who use Office, not Google. So your decision may come down to the question of who is the audience for your documents.

Q. Since the latest iPhone now has an activity sensor, do I need to sync it with a fitness band to count my daily steps?

A. No. There are a variety of pedometer and step-counting apps that work without a band or external device. While I haven’t thoroughly reviewed these, I’ve played around with a few, including Breeze, Argus, and one simply named Pedometer. All use data from the phone’s motion sensor, and can even retrieve data from recent days stored on the phone. The upside of these apps is that you don’t have to buy or wear anything else. The downside is that, unlike a band, which you are likely to wear all the time, your trusty phone might not be with you every minute to capture your motion — for instance, when it’s charging.

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