Zoho Writer Review: Desktop vs. Online Word Processor

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".

Zoho Default

Zoho Writer in Fullscreen Firefox

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.


Where is my Google Operating System?

    About 9 months ago, on my former blog I wrote a short post about what a prospective Google Operating System might be like. At that point Google had not yet started it's massive Web 2.0 rollout in full steam. In fact, the only major offerings they had, besides search, was Gmail, Maps and Blogger. But 9 months on things have changed considerably. Google has put out a number of new Web 2.0 products, including Google Calendar, Reader, Notebook, personalized Start pages, Picasa for Linux and most recently, it's Spreadsheet. Also, let's not forget that it has bought Writely, released Google Desktop and come up with video search. So where does this all leave us?

    There are a number of things to consider. Firstly, Google has been getting a fair amount of falk recently for putting out too many new applications and not really concentrating on developing or improving existing ones. This is not criticism to be taken lightly, especially since there is a certain amount of truth behind it. Google Labs, currently has a number of projects that seem to be distinctly in suspended animation. Add to that the fact some ot it's newer offerings have been acutely mediocre. Google calendar falls behind other services like Kiko and 30boxes and Notebook seems like a poorly thought out cross between a del.icio.us competitor and post-it notes. Google's latest offering, Spreadsheet, came as something as a surprise, eapecially since they seem to have been sitting on their acquisition of Writely for the past few months. But as this recent blog post says, Spreadsheet may just be one of Google's better ideas for some time.

    Once again I ask: what is Google up to? Yes, we all know that they want to take over the world, but the real interesting question is: how? Google seems poised to release a fully-featured web-based office suite and be able to integrate it nicely with their existing superb email system, creating a one-stop online groupware product for enterprises and businesses. In other words, everything that your average office needs to do including writing documents, keeping track of data, exchanging that data, both internally and externally can be done using a seamless system powered by Google. the next step then, would be to integrate this functionality directly into the user's computer so that the net and Google's collaboration tools become an integrated part of your desktop. This could be done by expanding Google Desktop, but a far better solution already exists: Firefox. It's already a top class browser and it probably won't take too long to integrate it tightly with Google's server backends (especially considering the incredible talent they have hanging around). As you may well imagine, this would explain Google's extensive support of Firefox development. And in the long term, there's no reason why Google should stop there when they can build there own operating system, designed from the bottom up to break down the division between your computer and the World Wide Web (not to mention Google's Web 2.0 empire).

    Now I know what you're thinking: This is all very interesting, but what about Google NOW? Well, let's just say that Google doesn't exactly make it a point to make it's plans known to the public all the time. However by the end of the year we should certainly see a Google influenced version of Writely being made available (currently all signups are closed) and this would be tied in strongly with their Spreadsheet, Gmail and Calendar apps. Besides that there's not really much that can be said for certain. A Flickr or YouTube competitor may be in the offing and maybe more desktop products. But one thing's for certain; Whatever Google's plans may be,for the short term it doesn't look like they're going to let up their Web 2.0 onslaught, and as long as they give away their products for free, I think we can all just sit back and make use of some good software (and hope that the rest gets improved). 

    Tune in tomorrow for a look at whether Zoho Writer can beat your current desktop Word Processor. 

Experimental Computer Interfaces

    Here's the dirt: the computer as we know it has been around for around 15 years. But in that time, and digital computers have been around since the 1970s. In that time the way we interact with our computers has stayed more or less the same. Type in stuff using a keyboard, and more recently use a mouse to point, click and drag. Despite the massive leaps in other areas of computer technology, these things have pretty much stayed the same. Wireless devices and trackballs may seem different, but they really are just variations on the same theme.

    But how exactly would you interact with a computer if you're not going type in commands or use a mouse? The first thing comes into mind s of course Star Trek stlye voice interface. But this isn't nearly as simple as it sounds. Not only is the technology far from being suitable for daily use, there are a number of practical difficulties. Firstly, do you really want to be talking to your computer all the time? Can you imagine how incredibly noisy it will be in offices with everyone talking all the time? And just think about how impossible it will be to carry on a converstion with your spouse while checking your email. So voice intefaces might be cool for "computer, microwave my food NOW" but you wouldn't want to use it all the time. (Besides, no sane programmer would dictate all his code)

    So, if we're not going to use our mouths to get our work done, we'll just use the next best thing, namely, our hands. Remember the holographic computer interface from Minority Report? Looked cool right? Well, here's the news, a company is actually making something quite similar. Now that could be quite nice, not to mention fun (a bit like dancing i suppose) and you probably would get a fair bit of exercise as well, with moving your arms about like that. But then again there are practical problems. Seriously, how many of us would give over one of our walls to a souped up computer screen? And standing up and doing a weird dance, just to put out a blog post? No thanks. It might be good for specialized things, like movie editing where it would be great to drag and join various segments quickly, but not really for everyday use. And besides, the electricity bills that would bring up would make it prohibitively expensive. 

    The fact of the matter is that the keyboard mouse combo is really a damn good way to inerface with your computer. And you really can't get a way of putting down information that is more efficient than typing it out. Sure you can save it as an audio or video file, but editing them really isn't the easiest thing in the world. So is the keyboard here to say? Not so fast! While we've been all out checking the hip and cool and futuristic interfaces, there's been something that's been staring us in the face, literally: the computer screen. Look at this way, the main parts of our interface are the screen, the mouse and the keyboard.So why not roll them into one? The touchscreen! Sure the tablet PC and Microsoft's Origami ave flunked pretty badly, but that doesn't mean the concept is bad. Imagine a screen built into your tabletop, which can be raised to a small angle. Most of the time it acts as a normal screen, you simply use your fingers to find your way about (the details of navigation will be dependent on the software). When you need a keyboard, the bottom third of the screen is taken over by a transparent onscreen keypad, and the best thing is that the since the keyboard is software based, you could easily change it for different purposes and maybe make specialized keypads for gaming, graphics work oreven blogging. And you can say goodbye to moving your eyes up and down from the screen to your keyboard and no more moving your hand from the keyboard to mouse every once in a while. 

    If you have any other ideas, tell me about it and I might feature it. 

Puppy Linux 2.0 released

    Seems to be distro party this month. Not only has my favourite Linux Distro ubuntu come out with it's newest release, my current operating system and favourite LiveCD, Puppy has also released a new version. Although this doesn't feature many visible changes like Ubuntu does, there's been a lot of work done under the hood and some parts have been rewritten from scratch. So go ahead and give it go, don't worry about bandwidth, it's just 70MB. I haven't given it a try yet, but I will soon.

Ubuntu 6.06 Dapper Drake released

Ladies and Gentlemen, it's the 1st of June 2006 and right on schedule, Ubuntu 6.06 has been released! This is certainly the most anticipated Linux Distribution release this year, and with good reason. This release makes a significant improvement over earlier versions and also sports a new, beautiful graphical look and feel. One of the biggest complaints about earlier versions was that the default Ubuntu look was, well, a bit ugly. Look's like the developers have paid heed, and while the desktop is still GNOME, the colour scheme is now orange, not brown, and has a new graphics engine, which is full of animations and shine and polish. This release is also important as it comes with an extended support period. Uptil now, each release would receive patches and security updates for 18 months. Dapper Drake will get them for at least five years. This is part of the push to give Ubuntu a greater presence in enterprise. Now, enough said. Go look at some screenshots and when you're done with that, go and download the CD, or if you're willing to wait a month, order free CDs.