Tom Petrocelli's take on technology. Tom is the author of the book "Data Protection and Information Lifecycle Management" and a natural technology curmudgeon. This blog represents only my own views and not those of my employer, Enterprise Strategy Group. Frankly, mine are more amusing.

Friday, January 18, 2008

I Can't Cotton to On-line Office Apps

I still don't like on-line office applications. It's not that I have anything against on-line applications. Heck, the company I work for (and the line of business that I run) sells that as an option for our customers. I love Xpenser, which helps manage expenses and Stikket which is an on-line sticky note app. It's the office apps I can't cotton to.

To start with, they all feel somewhat lightweight to me. Let me put it another way - most are only about as good as a decent text editor. Even for people who just want to write a letter, on-line office applications offer too little in automation and features. You can enter basic text or numbers and perform some simple editing functions but that's it.

I'm writing this on Google Docs and am not enjoying it a bit. I want margins! I know this is electronic and going to get published to a blog but if I wanted to print this, it would be ugly. It's also very web-centric. If you look at the style menu you see typical internet styles like "Heading 1". That's an HTML programmer's idea of how to write documents not a writer's. There is no way I could write a memo on this, let alone something substantial like an article.

Now, I can already hear the howls from the promoters of these applications. They will say "on-line applications are not meant to do everything a desktop office suite does" and "your expecting too much". All I'm asking for is basic functions. I'm not suggesting that these apps be used to write the great American novel, just simple stuff like the kid's school papers. Wordperfect circa 1985 has more functionality.

There is also the whole problem of it being on-line in the first place. It's great to imagine that you can access your documents from any computer in the world. That assumes you have a network connection. Without that, you can't access your documents from anywhere in the world. So, while the dream of documents everywhere is a great one. It doesn't help if you can't get to them. Once your network connection is down, they may as well be at the bottom of the ocean.

I don't mean to beat on Google Docs alone. All of the on-line office apps are like this. They have no choice. If they add more features then dragging that code across the Internet will eat bandwidth like frogs eating flies in late summer. This is why I think the whole concept is flawed. Applications that encompass lots of back-end processing but few upfront features are great as Software as a Service. Applications that need to have a lot of features on the front end do not.

What makes this especially amusing is that there are free alternatives such as It's not like the only choice is to buy a professional office suite for $500.00 or use the on-line apps. There is a free but full-featured alternative.By the way, I hate having to use the ".org". Someone should fix that situation.

So, for lightweight writing tasks like blogging, the on-line apps are certainly interesting. For most anything else, they are useless. I'll stick to

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