Phil Sim

Web, media, PR and… footy

Docs gets a WYSIWYG view… nah, just kidding

I’ve done a lot of bitching about the lack of WYSIWYG functionality on Google Docs. Basically, you have never had any idea what your document is going to come out like when you need to print.

Now, I don’t print many documents and it’s annoyed the hell out of me, so I can imagine how frustrating it has been for those users who print most of what they writer. Indeed, it’s annoyed me enough that I’ve recently switched to Buzzword for documents I write with an intent to print. But today I got excited when I discovered that Google had finally introduced a “fixed-width page view”.

At first I thought, yes, Google Docs finally has gone WYSIWYG but alas, it took me a grand total of 30 seconds to work out that wasn’t the case. I’ve not even had a chance to properly test it by printing out any documents but already I can see its a long way short of being WYSIWYG.

The first obvious flaw was that you can’t see your document from a vertical perspective. Page breaks just look like a line splitting one long page. I then tried changing the margins on the print settings and my document didn’t change at all.

And this is what the Google help says about the new feature: “Page view layout is an alternative way to edit your documents. As its name suggests, page view allows you to display your docs in the form of a page. Not only does it have a sophisticated look, but it also allows you to more easily visualize how a doc will actually look on paper.”

More easily visualize? Nup, this ain’t no WYSIWYG. Oh well, it’s a start I guess.

Filed under: Online Wordprocessing,

Google Docs ties with your domain

If you have a Google Apps for your Domain account, you can now log into Google Docs and Spreadsheets using your Google-managed user names.

We’ve had our domain hosted with Google now for a few months, but I’ve held off moving away from my gmail user account because I like the single sign-in factor I have with that. The big obstacle for me was not being able to log in to Docs and Spreadsheets with my MediaConnect username as I spend a bunch of time in that app every day as it has become my primary word processor these days.

However, last weekend I thought I might try logging into D&S with my mediaconnect login and it worked no problems at all, although its still not linked to in top left-hand corner of my email.

I wonder why that is? I hope it’s because Google has something bigger planned that simple integration of D&S and GAFYD (and Google can we please get some nicer names for these two apps).

I’m absolutely dying for Google to integrate Jotspot into all this. I have very much come to the conclusion that is the app that brings all this stuff together for SMEs.

My frustation at the moment, is that Zoho has pretty much done this with its recent ZohoWiki, which does tie together its spreadsheet and docs, and furthermore they tie it together further via their Virtual Office product. About six months ago, I came to the conclusion I had to back one horse on this front and chose the Google path, one because of their size and two because I’m so in love with GMail. When they release Google Calendar and Apps for your Domain I was feeling pretty good about that decision, but right now when we’re looking to really built out a corporate intranet faciltiy I’m dying for that Wiki piece of the puzzle to drop into place.

But I do have much faith in the Jotspot team. I think what they were creating with Jotspot was stunning and I have every faith that they can produce something special now they’re in the Googleplex.

P.S. Would Yahoo or even MS hurry up and buy Zoho. These big Internet heavyweights should look at Zoho and be shamed and red-faced as to the suite of web tools they’ve produced compared to what Zoho has pumped out. Unfortunately, I think for all their brilliance Zoho really needs a popular mail client to make everything come together on a personal productivity basis.

Filed under: Google, Online Applications, Online Spreadsheets, Online Wordprocessing, Web 2.0, Zoho

Google/Writely points to online/offline future

UPDATE: I’ve just woken up to find the Google/Writely thing was on the money.

The Great Om reckons there’s a rumour floating around about Google buying Writely.I’ve got some thoughts (surprise, surprise)…

Regular Squash readers would be aware of my AJAX Challenge, whereby I’ve been holding out installing a desktop Office suite to see if AJAX alternatives could cut the mustard. Now, this might be an anti-climatic way to announce it but AJAX lost the challenge. Last week I installed OpenOffice and now that it’s on my machine, my useage of online apps has dropped dramatically.

Why? Online spreadsheets are ordinary. If Zoho had of gotten Zoho Sheet out earlier it might have helped. iRows has promise but the feel just didn’t grab me. But in the end, I had to print out a really important document and just couldn’t make it look right in either Writely or ZohoWriter. So I downloaded OpenOffice and once I had it loaded up, I did the job in minutes. Unfortunately, as soon as you bring things like tables in the equation and want to format for print, online wordprocessors just aren’t there yet.

(As an aside, I think wordprocessors as we use them are pretty much a redundant application anyway. Most of what we write should logically now be done inside your email application or your blogging/publishing tool. It’s only complex document designed for print that really need to be created in something like Word and in this instance a low-end desktop publishing tool like Publisher might even make more sense anyway. I don’t think it will be long before Word and Publisher come together).

Anyway, back to the Google and Writely thingy. The possibility of this happening excites me for one very, significant reason. I reckon Google knows that Writely and other like products out there are for the most part crap. As Writely exists now, it’s a niche solution with little scope for generating significant revenues.

Doesn’t make any sense therefore for Google to have its precious resources tied up in building this kind of product. It should be able to pick Writely up pretty cheaply and in the proces bring in some talented developers. Writely, for all it’s limitations, is a neat piece of coding (as are the Zoho tools) and these guys will be an asset to whoever picks them up.

But if it’s such a niche, no-nothing market, why would Google bother at all?

Because, whereas most people think Google is working towards a future where everything we do is online and will happen inside a browser, I don’t think Google is thinking along those lines, at least in the medium term.

Rather, I think events over the past week amplify the fact that Google is working towards a seamless online/offline experience.

Let’s look at the analyst briefing presentation that came to public attention earlier this week. Google described a situation where your local drive acts as a high-speed cache of your central GDrive repository of data. THIS IS IMPORTANT. It’s open recognition that people will continue to work on their hard-drives and in desktop applications. In fact, in the presentation Google recognises that there are bandwidth and storage limitations that currently are preventing them from achieving the nirvana of a total online experience.

When you accept that Google isn’t working towards forcing everything into a browser, suddently a lot of things make sense. Like the OpenOffice agreement. Like the fact that they bought Picassa when they could easily have bought a Flickr-like service. Like the aggressive fashion in which they’re ramping up Google Desktop, especially the recent move to try and replicate online and offline data stores.

So this is how I see it working. Google Desktop is used to synchronise your local drive with your GDrive (with Lighthouse probably being the tool that you use to decide who can access and share what data). If your working on your regular computer, click a document and it opens up into OpenOffice Writer. If your on a public workstation log into GDrive, click on the same document and it opens up in Writely. (Oh and Writely becomes the standard text editor across GMail, Blogger, etc). Same goes for your photos with Picassa and then variously other kinds of documents.

Now wouldn’t that be cool?

Filed under: AJAX Challenge, Google, Online Applications, Online Spreadsheets, Online Wordprocessing

AJAX Challenge: Online Suite Spot

I’m getting well used to using Writely now. Really the only thing its missing for my day-to-day use is an automatic spellcheck. Having become used to Word’s automated red squiggleys I now seldom remember to click on the red squiggleys. So if Squash typos are annoying you, blame Writely. ;-)

I now post directly from Writely to my WordPress.com blog. That’s really kind of neat. As a journalist I’ve never had a production system where you could sent text straight out of your text editor into a production system. This is a functionality shared by Zoho Writer too.

Speaking of Zoho, I was well pleased to hear that the Zoho spreadsheet is on its way. It was due for any day now but is running a couple of weeks behind schedule. However, I’m already ruminating over what having all my Word documents in Writely and all my spreadsheets in Zoho Sheet will mean.

Zoho has gone on record as to the fact that they’re also working on a Powerpoint tool, so effectively they look like being the first and probably only provider of a full online suite. I’ll be interested to see how they bring this all together.

As I’ve said in the past, the primary reason I’m using Writely is I don’t like how Zoho manages your documents store. It’s fine if you have a half dozen, but as that mounts up, Writer really falls down and Writely with its ability to both tag and archive documents is far superior.

When Zoho pull together their suite, though, they’ll probably be able to leap across any stand-alone applications on this front because really I want to see all my documents, spreadsheets, powerpoint presentations, etc that relate to a single subject aggregated together.

That said, the nirvana is really to pull together my Writely documents, Zoho spreadsheets plus my Trumba calendar appointments, Gmail emails, etc. To all you AJAX desktop companies, take a tip. This is where you need to be focused because at the moment you’re just building gloried RSS readers. What I really want is to be able to tag something in Writely, Zoho Sheet, GMail, Calendar, tagged news articles, images, etc and them be able to click a tag on my Webtop and pull up everything under that tag regardless of what online app it exists in. Think del.icio.us meets Backpack. But where the aggregation all takes place automatically.

Of course, the challenge here is to be able to pull all of this data out of your various online applications so that you can aggregate it together. In particular, you’ll need to tap into GMail, Yahoo Mail or Hotmail because that’s where most people spend most of their day, these days, and that’s where your most valuable data lies.

So while an Office suite provider like Zoho is aiming to become, has a distinct advantage and could pull its application together in a way that makes life easier than using best of breed standalone online apps, eventually, it’s really only someone like Yahoo, Google or Microsoft that could pull the whole thing together.

Of those, Yahoo could do this most easily. Imagine if Yahoo bought Zoho. It could use del.icio.us as a central tag store, with tags from Yahoo Mail, Flickr, Yahoo Writer, Yahoo Sheet, etc all automatically populated. Give My.Yahoo a much needed overhaul built around pulling all this together.

Filed under: AJAX Challenge, Online Applications, Online Spreadsheets, Online Wordprocessing, Webtops

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