Google today introduced add-ons for Google Docs & Sheets and they certainly make the Google Office productivity suite more capable and more useful. If you haven’t tried them yet, open any Google document or spreadsheet in your Google Drive and look for the new add-ons menu.

For starters, add-ons in Google Docs are like extensions for Chrome. Just like Chrome extensions add new features to your browser, add-ons extend the functionality of Google Docs and Google Sheets. To give you an example, here’s the screenshot of a Twitter add-on I wrote for Google Docs and Google Sheets that you can use to find and curate tweets right inside your documents.

Twitter Curator is an add-on for Google Docs and Sheets

Twitter Curator is an add-on for Google Docs and Sheets

Anyone can write an add-on for Google Docs. All you need to have is some basic understanding of HTML, CSS (for styling the add-on) and JavaScript. The server side code is written in Google Apps Script which is similar to JavaScript but running on the Google Cloud.

Google Scripts vs Google Add-on

Google Add-ons are also written in the Google Apps Script language but while regular Google Scripts can work on any document in your Google Drive, add-ons only work against the document or sheet that’s currently open in your browser.

Also, while Google Scripts support triggers and can run in the background (like this Website Monitor), add-ons can only run while a document or sheet is open and active.

The other big difference is that you can view the source code of regular Google Scripts while in the case of add-ons, the code is hidden from the end user. This helps developers protect their code but a downside is that the user has no clue about what’s happening behind the scenes.

We have seen issues with Chrome extensions and add-ons for Google Docs can be a target as well. For instance, an add-on can possibly email a copy of the current document or sheet to another email address? Or maybe it can share a folder in Google Drive with someone else. All add-ons currently listed in the Chrome store have been tested and reviewed by Google but if they open the gates for all, I would be a little hesitant to install add-ons created by unknown developers.

One more thing. Google Add-ons are only available for the new version of Google Sheets while Google Scripts can work on both old and new Sheets.

The Best Add-on For Google Docs & Sheets

The Chrome store has about 50 Google add-ons at the time of launch and here are some of favorite ones that you should have in your Google Docs.

  1. HelloFax – You can now send a fax to any number worldwide directly from inside Google documents. The free version lets you fax up to 5 pages.
  2. UberConference – You can have an audio conference with up to 10 people while working on a Google Document. There’s an option to record the call too.
  3. PanDoc – You can send the current document to the client from within Google Docs to request their legally-binding signature.
  4. Avery – Create address labels inside Google Docs for printing.
  5. Sudoku – Create and solve Sudoku puzzles inside a Google Spreadsheet.
  6. MailChimp – Send mails in bulk using the Mandrill service of MailChimp. The mails do not go via your Gmail account.
  7. MindMeister – Create a hierarchical bulleted list inthe the Google document and MindMeister will converted that list into a visual mind map.
  8. EasyBib – Cite books, journal articles and websites and add them to your Google Documents in MLA, APA and Chicago style.
  9. Gliffy & Lucidchart – Create flow charts, diagrams, site mockups, org charts and other technical drawings inside your Google Documents.
  10. Mapping Sheets – Create a spreadsheet with a list of places and the sheets add-on will plot them on a Google Map.
  11. TextHelp – This is like the yellow highlighter for your Google Documents. Select and highlight passages and save the annotations in a separate document.
  12. Analytics Canvas – It helps import your Google Analytics reports into Google spreadsheets for further analysis.

Related tutorial: How to Create a Google Docs Add-on