Google Docs to Allow Viewing Files Without Having a Google Account

Google Docs will now allow guest users who are not signed in using a Google account to be able to view a file, but not make changes or edits, for the first time.

Google is giving Google Docs users their first-ever capability to share a document, slide or drawing created in Docs with another user who no longer needs a Google account to access the file. But while the files can now be shared and viewed without the recipient signing in, they cannot be modified or edited until that user logs in to his or her own Google account.

The new view-only feature for Docs users was unveiled in an Oct. 7 post on the Google Apps Blog.

"We are making it easier to share Docs, Slides and Drawings with people who don't have a Google Account," states the post. "As a result of this change, files shared outside your domain to an email address not linked to an existing Google Account can be viewed without having to sign in or create a new Google Account."

The new feature permits, for the first time, users to share such documents with others who may not have their own Google accounts. Previously, users could only view such files if they were also logged into their Google accounts.

Even "if a file is shared with edit or comment permissions, the receiving user must still sign in with a Google Account in order to edit or comment on that file," the post continued.

For users, this could be seen as a convenient way to share documents with others even when the recipient is not logged into a Google account or doesn't have one. Once the file is shared with someone and that recipient logs into a Google account to be able to edit and modify the file, it can't be shared again from the original sharing link with another user.

Administrators and Google Docs users who already have file sharing permissions can change the sharing settings as desired.
The new file sharing feature is available for users of Google Apps and Google Apps for Business, Education, and Government, according to Google. The changes are rolling out to Rapid Release users immediately and will be followed by a slower rollout to other users through scheduled releases.

Google Docs users went through a big change in January 2013 when they were told that they would no longer be able to export files to older Microsoft Office formats for use with Microsoft Office.

The changes were first announced in September 2012, with an original planned transition date of Oct. 1, 2012, but users insisted that the short notice was not enough time to make the needed changes. The company was ultimately forced to push the transition to the end of January 2013 to give Docs users more time to prepare. Google said it made the transition so it could focus on Microsoft's newer Office formats that rely on open standards, including .docx, .xlsx and .pptx. That meant dropping support for the older, proprietary Office formats (.doc, .xls, .ppt) that were used in Office 97-2003.

The proposed changes will relate to the use of the Google Docs file exports only, however, meaning that users will still be able to import Microsoft Office files of any format into Google Docs on their own. Google touted the move as a way to make it easier for Docs users to be able to export their Google Docs files into the latest Microsoft Office formats automatically for easier transfers with users of later editions of the Microsoft Office suite.

While Google Docs is dropping support for the export of older Office formats, it still maintains support for other existing file formats, including OpenDocument formats, plain text, JPG images and PDFs. The changes still likely made it more complicated for Google Docs users to share files with users of older 1997 to 2003 versions of Office. That problem, of course, has arisen for Office users every time Microsoft has changed its file formats, all in the name of progress, over the years. New Office formats always emphasize usability improvements, but make it more complicated to transfer files when different users have different versions of Office.