Google Docs has come a long, long way over the years. I was just having a conversation with a coworker yesterday about how many users have migrated over to using Google’s office tools as their primary way to get work done. That list includes some folks that I never thought would step away from the comfy confines of Microsoft Office. It’s all just proof that as time passes, we’re all more and more open to using services that are accessible, simple to get to, and cloud connected. Google Docs has been doing it for a very long time and a change that is beginning to roll out may go unnoticed by some, but will be crucial in keeping things clean, fast, and smooth going forward.
Google Docs is moving to canvas-based rendering
Did you read that title and shrug your shoulders a bit? Look, I’m pretty tech-savvy and I had to look up exactly what canvas-based rendering is to be sure. In a nutshell, Google Docs is currently a very complex HTML-based web app. It’s a far cry from the simple HTML and CSS you see on this page as you read, but it is still the same underlying markup that static websites like this one uses.
A canvas-based approach is a departure from static HTML and will give Google Docs a much more consistent framework to display content. It should also improve performance across the board since canvas-based rendering is simply better at rendering objects like text and shapes on the screen. From someone far smarter than me about these things over on Stack Overflow:
Canvas is better for thousands of objects and careful manipulation, but a lot more code (or a library) is needed to get it off the ground. HTML Divs are clunky and do not scale, making a circle is only possible with rounded corners, making complex shapes is possible but involves hundreds of tiny tiny pixel-wide divs.via Stack Overflow
When you consider what is being rendered in any given Google Doc, this all makes a lot of sense. A canvas-based rendering system will greatly speed up Google Docs ability to get text, objects, graphs, and images rendered in a quicker fashion for the end user. And, with added consistency across multiple platforms, this should end up providing a situation where what you have on screen with a Macbook will look identical to what is rendered in Windows or Chrome OS as well. If we get speed increases and improved consistency of rendered objects on all screens, this move is the right one for Google to make for sure.
One fly in the ointment
Google does warn in their post about this that some extensions may fail once this update hits. Some Chrome extensions act upon the underlying HTML bits in Google Docs and since most of that will be changing, those extensions may fail as well. To hear Google say it:
We don’t expect this change to impact the functionality of the features in Docs. However, this may impact some Chrome extensions, where they may no longer work as intended.
Some Chrome extensions rely on the way the backend of a Google Doc is structured or specific bits of HTML to function properly. By moving away from HTML-based rendering to a canvas-based rendering, some Chrome extensions may not function as intended on docs.google.com and may need to be updated.via Google Workspace Updates Blog
Google has provided an example read-only file that is being rendered via the new canvas-based setup if you want to test an extension you are currently using against it. The roll out is happening quite gradually – over the next several months – so it’s not exactly a fire alarm, here. There will likely be time to test extensions well before anything is forced on users, but do know that the change is on the way for sure. Google has also offered up some tools as well to aid in the migration process and you can check them out in their post about all this right here. Overall, this is a change I think will be a big move in the right direction for all users over time. As more and more of us are moving our work to the cloud, I love seeing Google continue to make improvements to the core parts of that experience and can’t wait to see this change in the near future.
VIA: 9to5 Google