Wednesday, 26 September 2007

What's With Online Office Suites?

I use a few. Correction. I used a few... I'm used to working with PC based office suites, more especially the ones that are integrated tightly with everything else on the computer (yeah that MS one, and an Open/Star one too) and I have gotten used to a few features. Some of those features don't translate well into the online experience...

For a start, because this takes place within a browser window, I've lost count of the number of online suites I've abandoned because my perfectly laid out document printed like a Big Piece Of Poo. Or printed perfectly on that PC, then printed like a BPOP at the client's office because their browser had a different idea of where the margins were supposed to be.

The next thing that drove me away in droves from an otherwise reasonable suite has been document management. Come on OLOS developers, how hard is it to provide aome DMS-like facilities and stop relying on the old "here you go - go crazy with the folders" mentality? I'd love to have a folder restricted to read-only for three people, read-write for me and a collaborator, and able to keep track of the printed version in real life too. I'd LOVE to have project-level management of documents. Almost every online suite I've tried fails this one. And it's not like you can just find a DMS and pop your documents into it, because then you've suddenly lost the convenience of accessing your documents at the OLOS site from anywhere.

There are other online suites that have their brilliant facets - and then a string of missing stuff. Like, GREAT online WYSIWYG editing. But no calendar, scheduler, notes or to-do. Or really nice intuitive document handling, but an editor that makes you long for edlin. Others format and print my documents really quite acceptably - but woe betide I try and take a copy for download and use in some PC-based editor.

Almost all of them also have commercialitis, they are either free and thus tell you not to expect too much in the way of reliability, document security, and surviveability; or else they have those features and would like to charge you for them - but they don't have all the other requisites I've mentioned.

The best OLOS I've found so far, ZOHO, has almost every feature I want. A whole swag of handy tools like a Wiki for collaborative notes, calendar/scheduler/to-do, notebook integrated with browser, and more. But try and just create a single project with each of these components integrated, or get the format on screen to look like the format that ends up printed...

Google Documents is GREAT for importing and exporting various formats, and surprisingly even preserving some of the features across those formats. (If you've ever craefully crafted a spreadsheet in Star Office and then tried to export it to Excel you'll know what I mean here. Dammit, it shouldn't be this hard to produce documents!)

But just try and equate what you see on the screen with what you will see in the Word document you export... Also, Gooogle Docs has no real integration with the rest of the suite of Google Apps or Google Groups or Picasa Web - they are solitary little islands of text and formatting with no way to connect my prize chapter to my editor's calendar. And as for Tasks or To-Do lists, forget it. I get around the limitation because the convenience of being able to export a PDF and attach that to email is tempting, but I'd rather not have to.

How about making YOUR online office suite more like a document and project management suite? With ability to create groups and teams for different tasks, provide a workflow path for the projects, and bulletproof security for the data?

Instead of labouring away to produce the perfect web interface, provide a PC based client instead? Or hooks into popular office packages so they can save their documents into your online DMS?

Yeah, that would be good - how about - instead of trying to develop in 500 lines of code an Ajax version of what has taken 150,000 lines of code and years to develop already - you just stop re-inventing the wheel and concentrate on the strengths that Internet-enabled documents have?

There are dozens of things an online office suite could do to get my vote and become The Last App I'll Ever Need. How about using OpenID so that my collaborators don't need to go through the rigmarole of joining yet another online network? A simple download and address I can give those collabs so that they can access the documents with their OpenID and not have to worry so much about learning a new set of procedures and applications?

That's the problem - every OLOS developer thinks that their userbase will ALL make the switch to their suite and become exclusive converts - but in truth and in fact, there will always be people with Macs and people with PCs and, increasingly, people with Blackberries and online PDAs and even Java enabled mobile phones, needing to get to documents that someone uploaded from their Wordperfect files of 20 years ago. Solve THAT babel and leave the design of document creation and editing software alone.

Here's a final thought: if, using your online document management suite, I could just put a plug-in into my OpenOffice suite and then access documents on your site AND on Google Docs and on ZOHO and everywhere else - and have the choice of where to save them back to and in what format - that would be worth paying for. The current offering are not.


kalidas said...

Well if you are looking for something new and great then i suggest you one online office suite which is a complete online office with various apps...

eDesk Online - free online suite

teddlesruss dat who! said...

You didn't actually read the article did you? *sigh* Dunno WTF I bother.

I don't want a "new and great" more of the same. Read the article and get your head around what I asked for. NO online office apps. NO trying to be an "office suite." NO "try our secure online folders."

Which I notice is all your suggested site is - more of the same.

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