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Sunday, November 18, 2007

Who needs Microsoft Word?

There is a report needs to be done. It has to be type written so that it can be printed out in a nice format. So I sit in front of my computer, launch up my web browser, navigate to Google Docs, and click on "New Document". A word editor appears, the look is so Microsoft Word like, with all the standard toolbars and an editor that one could have easier mistaken it as a lost cousin of the Microsoft Word. The only difference is that, there is no menu bar. Nevertheless, the whole interface is familiar enough so I just get to the typing, concentrating on the report itself.

And so I type, and type, and type. A small red status appears regularly on the top right of the editor. That status reads "Saving...", indicating that the whole document is being saved as I continue doing my job. However, my past habits are hard to change. Because of the tendencies for Microsoft Word to crash in the past, I have developed a habit of pressing ctrl+s every few minutes, just to make sure that I don't lose my work. Without releasing what I am doing, I press a ctrl + s, and the "Saving..." status appear again. It is as if the Google Docs knows the command shortcut keys of the Microsoft Word.

Suddenly, a man pat on my shoulder. I am slightly startled. Then his tired voice tells me that it's now 10pm and he wants to close shop now. "Please, sir," he says, "you can come tomorrow if you want to". So I logout of my account immediately and head home. Tomorrow I will find another cybercafe to finish my report. Unlike last time when I had to make sure that I brought my USB drive with me, this time I just simply walk off, knowing well that I have everything I need stored in the vast cyberspace, and the chance of me losing my stuff is next to nil.

This is the next generation word editor, the Google Docs. Unlike the Microsoft Word that needs to be installed, and maintained and upgraded, you don't need to do anything with Google Docs. Everything in Google Docs is supposed to "just works". Microsoft Word and Google Docs represent two different kinds of applications. Microsoft Word is a desktop application, it resides on the desktop, meaning that the program lives inside your hard drive whereas Google Docs is a web application, it is installed on servers far away from your physical location. The information you enter in the Google docs is transmitted via online to server farms. The main difference between the web application and desktop application is that, with web application, you can access them anytime you want at anywhere you like, as long as you have Internet connection, whereas for desktop application, you are chained to a particular computer in order for you to do your job.

Like many, I was intrigued when I learned that Google unveiled its online office suite-- Google Docs. But I didn't think that I needed an online Word processing program, after all we had Microsoft Word right? But out of curiosity I gave it a try anyway. To my great surprise, I found that I like the Google Docs a lot, especially for its online collaboration and edit-everywhere capabilities. Even though the editing capabilities of Google Docs are vastly inferior compare to Microsoft Word, I don't find that a serious shortcoming. Why should I? For most of my documents, I just have to type out my contents, plus a little bits of formating, maybe a table here and there, one bullet list, some keyword underlining, and that's it. I don't need to be able to create macros to generate template; I don't need the fancy sound when I type and I don't need most of the advance features of Microsoft Word. All I need is to be able to create my contents, to centralize them in a single place ( instead of having them scattered over different computers on different folders only to jump up and down when I can't find them), and to edit them whenever I want to. And that, I suspect, is also what a lot of users want.

Yes, occasionally, I still need Microsoft Word for something a bit more complicated, but that's just for the time being. As web applications mature, we will find ourselves use desktop applications less and less. And one day we will look back at the past at the time when we have to wrestle documents out of a wretched computer and feel that how lucky are we now for not having such a problem. May the day come, the sooner the better.


1 comment:

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