2007/01/31

Online Apps & Google Docs

Online applications, such as Google Docs, are one of the new tools for both online collaboration and personal productivity.

A recent article pointed out that a Microsoft Word document in Gmail can now be opened in Google Docs. That happened today when I sent a Word document to Justin K and the document opened in Google Docs when he clicked on his Gmail attachment. It was great we could collaborate on the document without having to email things back and forth after the initial email I sent. (The only reason I sent him the Word document instead of doing the entire transaction in Google Docs is habit -- I'm used to starting word processing documents with a blank Word document.)

Online applications, and there are lots of them out on the web trying to become your defacto productivity suite, may one day be standard tools for knowledge workers. They have a ways to go, though, before people used to Microsoft Office will be ready to trust and utilize them fully. Several reasons for this are:
  1. People need to be able to work whilst offline. I'm pretty sure one needs to be online for the standard Google Docs to let you work on your files. Articles have indicated various web apps have offline components, but none of the ones I use regularly have that feature as far as I know. Once the online app designers understand people need to work both online and offline, the issues of synchronizing need to be ironed out.
  2. Security & privacy are concerns. If your documents are stored online, who else will be reading them or searching them for information? What privacy rights do you have, and will your local government agency be given the opportunity to continually scan what you write in order to keep you safe from terrorists?
  3. Reliability and backup issues will become very important after the first lawsuit is won by someone whose valuable business information stored and manipulated by online apps is lost. Even if the EULA says the online app or storage company has absolutely no responsibility for the safety or security of your data, it seems like the user doesn't have the power to control that data on the app's servers, so how can the user be the responsible party?
  4. Cost will be another factor. I don't mind using Google Docs, Gmail, Gcalendar, etc, when they are free. But if I have to pay $5 or $10 per month for personal use of my online productivity suite, I'll go back to using MS Office or OpenOffice for most of my work and only use limited-feature online apps which will likely always be free. At some point, however, the online apps will be reliable enough for many (most?) small businesses and entrepreneurs to use instead of a productivity suite installed on their office computer. For those situations, it will be worthwhile to pay for the use of that online suite.
  5. Integration between the various apps in an online suite is important. A person will be most effective using an online suite if the apps have the same look, feel, and commands. Information should be movable between the various apps either easily or automatically.
I read yesterday that Google announced a premium online suite they will be releasing shortly. If we're lucky, many of the above issues will have been solved, or will be solved within the first year of Google releasing the online suite.

If you haven't used one of the online apps for collaboration, give it a try. Use Google Docs, Google Spreadsheets, or a similar online app. Have other people edit your document online and learn some of the advantages of online apps. They might not replace MS Office or OpenOffice on your home computer in the near future, but there are definite advantages to online apps for some tasks.

What online apps do you use?

(If you don't currently use any apps but are interested, contact me, and I'll be happy to connect you with some good apps to try out.)

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