Wednesday, March 15, 2006

Google word processor

Google have acquired the Writely online word processor. Most of the media reported this as a challenge to Microsoft's Office product:

"Internet search leader Google has acquired Upstartle, a small startup that runs a collaborative word processor inside Web browsers, according to a posting on Google's official press site on Friday.

Upstartle runs, which helps people access and edit documents from any computer on the internet.

The company's programs also help people post blogs, publish web documents and work with multiple authors to edit a piece of writing.

Analysts say this move represents a new challenge by Google to Microsoft's office suite business."
From: Google edges closer to taking on Microsoft, Reuters, SMH, March 11, 2006, URL:

The Register, as is their brief, were skeptical:

"As we reported yesterday, Google has paid an undisclosed sum for a web-based document editor, Writely. It's a product that's as mature as the company which produced it, Upstartle. ..."

From: "Only in a bubble is Google's web WP an Office-killer", Andrew Orlowski, The Register, 10 March 2006, URL: <>

As a Beta user of Writely I am not as negative about it as The Register. Writely is not a rival to Ms-Office in its current form, but shows potential. Its limited functionality is its best feature. It is not complicated to use, because it can only do basic editing. This makes it suitable for documents destined to be put on the web, such as Blog entries.

Writely is limited by being provided over the web, via a web browser. You type your document in a window on the web browser. Most of the time this is fine, but every now and then when Writely needs to do something complicated, you have to wait while the data is sent from browser to server and back. But you can use Writely from (almost) any computer with a web browser and Internet connection.

Writely is far from OpenOffice.Org, which does try to be a rival to Ms-Office, has lots of functionality, but is therefore very complex. I spend a lot of my time removing extraneous formatting put in by "features" of Ms-Word and OOO documents so they can be put on the web efficiently or be used in typesetting systems.

A whole industry (and area of academic research) has sprung up around cleaning up Ms-Word documents using OOO. These take badly formatted bloated WP clean them up and turn them into content for web sites, newspaper and magazine articles and books.

Writely may find its niche by being a web friendly word processor for small documents intended for the web. These documents will not look as good when printed out, nor will it be a good way to create very large complex word processing documents. But it may be a good way to create short simple documents, which can be assembled into large ones using web content management systems. Some of that information will then later be converted into print format as letters, reports, newspaper articles and books.

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