March 5, 2007
If you’re like me and millions of other people (ok, grammar, millions of other people and me), you’ve been using word processors, spreadsheets, databases, and /or presentation software on your computer. Microsoft Word and Excel are the most likely candidates, although Microsoft Works often comes bundled inside our computers when we purchase them. We run these programs on our own computers, and store our documents and spreadsheets on our own hard drives. We share these documents either by emailing them out or putting them on a disk or jump drive. (Whoops, Wikipedia defines “jump drive” as something that spaceships go through via hyperspace to get from point A to point B. I guess I meant “putting them on a disk or USB flash drive.”) That makes it hard for two or more people to work cooperatively on the same document from different computers, or for one person to work on a document from two or more computers.
A new concept is emerging — online office productivity suites. Wordprocessing and spreadsheeting are moving online. Several websites now provide complete word processing that you use via your Internet browser just like you would check your bank balance or read the news. And for now, they’re free. They cost nothing to use, zip, zilch, nada. No need to purchase and install expensive word processing, spreadsheet, and presentation programs (among other types of programs). Instead, if you need to write a letter, just go online. Need to tally numbers? Online. Create a database or a presentation? Again, online. Another plus: no need to worry about updating a word processing program already on your computer — these online word processors, spreadsheets, etc. are automatically updated. These services make it easy for several people to work colloboratively on the same document.
The best online productivity suite: Zoho. I love this service. Some of its offerings are totally free, like Writer, Sheet, and Show. Some are free for the casual user, but charges a fee for more heavy usage. Zoho offers the following:
- Zoho Writer — a complete online word processor
- Zoho Sheet — a powerful online spreadsheet
- Zoho Show — create online presentations
- Zoho Wiki — maintain wikis (a new way of organizing large amounts of information that require lots of colloboration between people)
- Zoho Notebook — a wonderful way of displaying pictures, video, and other info on easy-to-create pages
- Zoho Projects — online project management
- Zoho Creator — a complete online database
- Zoho Planner — plan your to-do’s and reminders online
- Zoho Chat — hold chat sessions among groups of people
Google offers an excellent online word processor and spreadsheet service: Google Docs and Spreadsheets. Also free, and Google’s doing a better job lately of making it work well with its other services. Frankly, I’m not certain whether Google’s word processor and spreadsheet is better than Zoho’s, although Google is leveraging its considerable muscle and tech know-how behind its products. Zoho, on the other hand, has a much broader set of online office productivity applications, in addition to Writer and Sheet, and has add-ons that integrate well with Microsoft Word / Excel. For the moment, I would declare Zoho the winner. But check back in a few months, uh, seconds.
In an earlier post, I mentioned Picnik. It’s an online photo editor, and it’s another example of how our usual computer programs are moving online. Even video editing is moving online — Jumpcut (recently purchased by Yahoo) is a good example. Design complete webpages via Weebly. Files and photos can even be saved online in massive central repositories like Omnidrive which, incidentially, work well with the various Zoho products.
When computers were first invented, they were massive mainframes. People used them via “dumb terminals.” These terminals were not much more than monitors with keyboards — they were pretty much incapable of storing and/or running their own programs, and instead had to run programs on the mainframe. (When I was in high school in the 1980′s, I worked for a Federal agency writing programs on a huge mainframe computer via dumb terminals. These programs triangulated geographic satellite data. How uber-geeky!) Over the past 20 years, we’ve had computers smart enough to run their own programs. So isn’t it funny that, over the past year or two, we’ve been “regressing” — we are now using online services that are operated via the Internet, rendering our computers not much more than a (smart) terminal.
Ok, so one has to be a Proud Geek to appreciate the irony! Good night, all.