It's been about three weeks since I first decided that I would run my computer without a hard drive. It's been fun and I can say that my project is reasonably successful. I've found myself a nice linux distro that runs beautifully off a LiveCD and comes with everything that you would need to run your computer. Now, why would I want an online, web-based word processor, when I already have a great desktop one (namely Abiword)? Well, two reasons: First, not having a hard drive means that I needed to store all my documents online and downloading and re-uploading documents to the web everytime you make the tiniest change can be a bit irritating after a few times. And secondly, there's been a certain amount of hype about online offices and I wanted the proof of the pudding.
So where to start? Well, online word processors, like a lot of Web 2.0 software falls into two categories: those designed for the individual user, and those designed for collaboration. Writeboard is one of the latter. I had thought of testing out two word processors and then deciding whic one to use: Zoho Writer and Writely. As you may know, Writely was acquired by Google some time ago and ever since then their signups have been done (apparently they're waiting to shift to Google's serers, but I wonder how many months that could take?).
In the meantime Zoho has been plowing ahead. The first thing that impresses you is their dead simple signup. just type your email, your password twice, click the button and that's it! No filling in forms, no giving away personal information. Just email and password and you can go play. Honestl, it is the simplest signup I have ever donw in my life. now on to the actual thing. In three words; I love it. The interface is really intuitive and great. The features are none too advanced, but good enough for the average user. All the usual things like bold, italics, alignment are accessible as simple buttons. And there are no confusing menus or panels.
Now, there's no point in having a word processor if you can't keep your processed words somewhere, right? Again Zoho gives you the solution. They'll keep your documents safe for you and if you need to save it somewhere you can just "export" into one of a number of different formats like ,doc, OpenDocument Text, RTF and even PDF. And yes, you can do the opposite, you can upload your own documents to the space they give you by just selecting it in a dialogue box.
Enough talk, I'll let you take a look for yourself. Below are two screenshots: The first one is the default view, with a panel showing the documents you currently have stored online, and all the other tools on offer. The second has the edit space expanded and it has been taken with Firefox taking up the whole screen. (you can do this by pressing F11) In case your interested, the document is my essay on the Shakespeare play "Richard II".
Now for the cons: I have just one complaint: the load time. It takes a fair amount of time to load up into your browser, but once that is done, you won't notice any difference with a normal word processor. But now for the real question: should you turn in your copy of OpenOffice Writer, Abiword or the equivalent product by a certain very large software company? Once again that depends on what you're after. If you're looking for the capability to allows have access to your documents as long as you have a net connection, no matter where your are, then Zoho Writer may be the way to go. But if you're not going to trust your documents to someone else or if you the load times are too much for you, then you should probably stay away, at least for a year or two. Online Word processors still have a way to go, but let me assure you, they're covering ground pretty fast.