Saturday, February 6, 2016

Accessing Google Docs: The Lightweight Way

Google Docs, or GDocs, have almost become a part of the daily routine of many people. With the "cloud is everything" hype, people are moving away from traditional desktop apps to online office automation software like GDocs to save themselves from the trouble of having to leave their web browsers even for a few minutes.

Unfortunately, GDocs is arguably one of the most bandwidth wasters in the Google Apps product range. This is particularly severe if you have a weak internet connection. In my case, on Firefox I can never edit a document while on a 3G mobile broadband data connection, as the editor always falls back to the offline stage a few seconds after loading. (Chrome is a bit better as it allows offline editing even when the connection is down, provided that you have installed the relevant GDocs browser app.)

The bigger issue is that whenever you just want to read a document, GDocs has to load the full editor (the fancy UI, all sorts of JS and CSS libraries, etc.) which can sometimes amount to 3-4 MB on a fresh load. To make things worse, it maintains a persistent connection with the backend to pull updates if someone else happens to be editing the document simultaneously. On a document with several people working, this can lead to serious bandwidth usage and even CPU/memory hangs on extreme cases.

However, if you just need to view or read the GDoc, there are far more simple and lightweight alternatives. These are generally mobile interfaces, what you would see if you visited the document in your mobile phone web browser. While they lack the fancy UI elements, editability, interactivity and collaboration features of the standard desktop site, they consume just a few kilobytes on load (not counting the actual document content) and provide you a hassle-free way to access the documents read-only.

To switch to the mobile view from the standard view, replace the trailing /edit?... portion of the respective GDoc URL with the following: