Can Web-based applications outwit, outplay, outlast the desktop?
We sentenced InfoWorld Senior Contributing Editor Oliver Rist to 7 days of using only Web-based productivity applications. Here's how he survivedFollow @infoworld
Tuesday: Word processing
I’m a journalist, so this is where I live. If I can’t write, I can’t eat. You’ve seen my picture, so you know I like to eat.
Again, a surprising number of entries. A few hours of looking around turns up ajaxWrite, Google’s Writely, RallyPoint, ThinkFree, Writeboard, and Zoho Writer. I probably missed a couple. Right off the bat, though, Rallypoint and Writeboard are out. The former just announced they’re closing their project, and the latter is a Windows Notepad competitor, not a Microsoft Word contender.
ajaxWrite is cool, it loads super-fast, and simply turns your Firefox window into a word processing toolbar and screen. A little austere, but most of the tools you’d expect from a Web word processor are there. Google Writely looks extremely friendly and has a Word 97-ish look and feel. Zoho Writer is similar to Writely in that respect but has one feature I didn’t find anywhere else: spell check. Hey, I’m an English major, but I’m also post-40 and the memory is going. Every safeguard helps.
Other than that, Google Writely and Zoho Writer are practically feature clones of each other -- a good list of fonts (although nothing like Word), the ability to create styles and templates, cut and paste from your desktop, import Word and OpenOffice doc formats, print previews -- all the basics. In addition, both offer integrated sharing, in which you can e-mail invitees to take a look at or modify your documents from a shared storage repository. And both offer direct blogging tools, where you can create your blog posts with these slightly richer tools, rather than more Spartan text toolkits you get from Blogger or WordPress.
Click for larger view.
Importing my existing docs went great, until I had to import our small company’s business plan for some revisions. That meant nonstandard margins, different style headings, and loads of tables. Surprisingly, Zoho handled the tables just fine, but lost out on the margins and styles a bit. Tried it in Writely just for fun with a similar result.
I could have worked around that, but the real problem was when I made the modifications and saved the document back into Word format. Opening the doc again upstairs on my Word-equipped PC showed a few things that didn’t come out the way I wanted. That’s a real problem. If your clients, partners, cell mates, or whatever can’t open your Word documents and see the same thing you saw in Zoho, it may still get the message across, but it just doesn’t look professional. When that doc got zapped back to me by my partner, it was a Johnny Walker moment.