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?