Forget the hype: Oracle Cloud Office is just a demo

After months of teasing, there are still few details on the alleged competitor to Google Docs and Microsoft Office Web Apps

Current Job Listings

Oracle Cloud Office brings online collaboration to Oracle Open Office. That's what we know for sure. As for the rest of it, I'm still groping for details. Oracle previewed Oracle Cloud Office at OpenWorld 2010 three months ago. This week, we were treated to the official announcement, replete with the obligatory press release and painfully few details. Here's what I've been able to piece together:

Oracle Cloud Office 1.0 brings "Web 2.0-style" (Oracle's terminology, not mine!) collaboration capabilities to Oracle Open Office: a multiuser editing interface for word processing documents, spreadsheets, and presentations. Although the press material emphasizes the fact that Oracle Cloud Office is based on the Open Document Format, it's also quick to note that Oracle Cloud Office is "compatible with both legacy Microsoft Office documents and modern Web 2.0 publishing."

Of course, the devil's in the details, and the details aren't at all apparent. Perhaps Oracle is saying that, among other things, you can open a Word .doc or .docx file with Oracle Open Office, then share that opened (and converted) document via Oracle Cloud Office. That's a little bit different than collaboratively editing a native Office document.

The Oracle Cloud Office data sheet [PDF] mentions that Oracle Cloud Office has browser-based collaboration capabilities using Windows, Mac OS, and Linux. It also says that you can "view documents on smartphones and tablets" -- implying that collaborative editing can't take place on a mobile device.

I'm concerned that several parts of the Oracle PR materials mention "rich offline document editing." That sounds, to my jaundiced ear, as if Oracle is really saying, "You can't do much editing online." Without the collaboration and "rich" online editing, Oracle Cloud Office doesn't look like much more than a simple online wrapper for the Oracle Open Office products. LibreOffice, the renegade Oracle offshoot I described last month, may be able to come up with something comparable to Oracle Cloud Office -- for free.

The most glaring omission? I can't find any reference to a free-for-personal-use version. The application's description page says Oracle Cloud Office "can be used for on-premise, on-demand, or software-as-a-service deployments." It also says that Oracle Cloud Office can be rebranded by telcos, Internet service providers, and other service providers. But there's no mention of Google Apps-style free access -- odd for a previously open source product. I also don't see any prices -- or even any indication of whether pricing is per-user, per-site, per-version, or perpetual.

Oracle has certainly taken Sun's free-as-a-breeze approach to OpenOffice.org and tied some purse strings around it.

Presumably we'll see more details shortly. But for now, Oracle Cloud Office is an interesting tease, with a short demo, and not much else.

This article, "Forget the hype: Oracle Cloud Office is just a demo," was originally published at InfoWorld.com. Get the first word on what the important tech news really means with the InfoWorld Tech Watch blog.