Will Google Office's solution to the "offline" problem mean trouble for MS-Office?

Will Google Office's solution to the "offline" problem mean trouble for MS-Office?

Summary: Fellow ZDNet blogger Garrett Rodgers:Online word processors aren't as "handy" as one installed on your computer because if your internet goes away, so do your documents — so I will start with the most interesting piece of code I found.  Google is working on a solution that will allow you to install [it's Writely Web-based word processing solution] on your local machine.

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TOPICS: Hardware
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Fellow ZDNet blogger Garrett Rodgers:

Online word processors aren't as "handy" as one installed on your computer because if your internet goes away, so do your documents — so I will start with the most interesting piece of code I found.  Google is working on a solution that will allow you to install [it's Writely Web-based word processing solution] on your local machine.

So, what Garrett is getting at is that a lot of people have poo-pooed the idea of Web-based productivity applications because of the so-called "offline problem." When your connectivity disappears for whatever reasons, you have no access to the code that drives the user interface of a Web-based word processor, nor do you have access to the storage where documents can be save to or retreived from. So, from Garrett's post, it appears as though Google's code for Writely has some built-in contingency plans for loss of connectivity that rely on the local host (eg: your desktop or notebook computer) to take over when Google's servers can't be accessed (again, for whatever reasons).

This is nothing new. Perhaps the best solution I've seen that does roughly the same thing and that makes synchronization between the local and network-based storage (and just requires a low-overhead local HTTP server) is Userland's Radio blogging solution (credit to Dave Winer). More and more, solution providers will recognize the genius in that design as they look to deal with the offline problem as elegantly as possible given today's constraints. Radio even works across platforms (Mac and Windows). 

Short-term, relying on the thickness of a desktop or notebook to solve the offline problem make sense since we all seem to be happy to keep mainframe-like compute power nearby. Longer term, I expect lighter-weight solutions to emerge; ones where the persistence mechanism for both code and data is a USB key (or something like it) and, instead of taking a notebook computer with you everywhere, you just carry your USB key and plug it in to whatever "kiosk" is nearby (note, a kiosk could be mounted into the seatbacks on aircraft and the tray in front of you could easily have two sides: one is flat and the other is a keyboard).

A world like that implies the ubiquity of certain technologies in certain contexts (most of which doesn't exist yet). In terms of interfacing public compute facilities with portable memory, is USB the transport? For the code in that memory to work everywhere, what's the ubiquitious execution environment that would accompany every browser? The three leading choices are Java, .Net, and Flash. Francois Orsini has already demonstrated, using a Web-based tax application, how Java could enable something of this nature. But we're a long ways off from seeing that sort of infrastructure turn up everywhere it's needed.  In the meantime, harnessing the power of Windows, Mac OS, or desktop Linux to solve the off-line problem makes perfect sense. 

If Google takes it a step further with auto-synchronization between offline and online documents and enables it wiki-style for network-based collaboration, Microsoft Office will have a new set of challenges on its hands given that it's closest competing solution currently requires very thick solutions like Microsoft Office and Sharepoint (note: in addition to installing it locally on a Windows Server, Sharepoint server functionality is also available as a service from Microsoft and other parties). 

Topic: Hardware

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12 comments
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  • Isn't this nothing more than a smart client

    application that works online or offline and automatically syncs as needed. MS was doing this in the 1990s with Outlook.
    xuniL_z
    • Nothing more

      Ah yes, but the difference is Google thought of it this time. Heh.
      bcorfman
    • same but smarter and more beautiful

      yes, this is similar to what MS was doing in the 90s, the difference being the technology (RIA) that has made it more attractive (easier, faster, and more flexible).
      ajhangiani@...
  • The solution to making web apps rich ?

    ? is to turn them into fat client applications. It is funny therefore when those who deride the fat client architecture, turn to that very architecture to solve their web app problems.
    P. Douglas
  • Online Apps

    I wish someone would bother to explain the value of using an online application. It's certainly not a lack of disc space on my desktop. Cheap storage is here, I will never need online storage. Perhaps very intensive graphical applications might, but never office apps.

    And I don't see how you can have an ap work offline without the entire ap on your own computer.
    shanedr
  • Try lotus Notes Nomad

    [i]..instead of taking a notebook computer with you everywhere, you just carry your USB key and plug it in to whatever "kiosk" is nearby[/i]
    IBM already have this.. then Lotus notes Nomad here http://www-142.ibm.com/software/sw-lotus/products/product4.nsf/wdocs/usb
    mobilegadget
    • IPOD for software; RealNetworks

      WOW, I must admit. Great URL. The same thing might be done with VMware. You would clone your Virtual OS desktop, move the file that is created to the USB memory stick, add the VMclient and Argh is that it? A software IPOD. Argh if the Virtualized desktop contained RealNetworks you might also have your tunes.

      Mobilegadget, my hats off to you. Its like Xmas in October. Nightmare before Xmas for Microsoft and Apple, I suppose.
      mighetto
  • Ever hear of an Applet? How about Open Office?

    It aint by accident that Java Applets were invented a decade ago. These remain - as does a web page - even with a lousy Wi-Fi connection that fades in and out. Hence you may not care about the bad connection.

    But Microsoft made it difficult and still does for all things Java in its browser. Hence Java coders figured out how to turn Applets into their own browsers. A billion phones with Java in less than a year just can not be wrong. Wake up and smell the coffee, Microsoft share holders.

    This article is significant in that it points out a potential problem with virtualizing Vista which we figured out today is a good response to a billon phone computers running Java, as well as the Google Spread Sheet and Word Processor.

    Virtualized Vista would make it unnecessary for Vista to be loaded on the mobile device because it could be run off a server instead. It is about the only counter to the Java threat left to Microsoft, in effect being a potentially great Web Service, folks might be willing to pay a few bucks for.

    With virtualization off say the MSN servers, users likely will get the performance they would have gotten on last year's PCs but can not get on new models. That is because Vista apparently was developed without the benefits of threading that Java provides. Microsoft certainly is addressing this with product launch delays. But the fact may well be that free OpenOffice runs better and faster than MicrosoftOffice under Vista on the new PCs because those new PCs are clocked slower, relying on threading in multiple cores for speed instead.

    Bottom line. Microsoft needs something better than WiFi to pull off Vista in a mobile world. Of course there is GSM.
    mighetto
    • Really?

      "But the fact may well be that free OpenOffice runs better and faster than MicrosoftOffice under Vista on the new PCs because those new PCs are clocked slower, relying on threading in multiple cores for speed instead."

      Really? *REALLY?*

      For example, spreadsheet users have been asking for over a decade for their calculations to take advantage of all their processor cores. Office 2007 does this. Last I checked, this was not included in Oo 2.0.5 or whatever came out the other day. Have 8 cores? Calc will use one, the other 7 idle.

      For users that have calculation models that take minutes or hours to run, it seems like MS listened much more closely to customer needs than Oo.

      Just an example of an obvious use of threading that users have been asking for. In fact, this seems like the single most obvious use of multiple threads in an office suite.
      KTLA
  • Building on sand

    While I appreciate being able to run word processors on the Web, you are still running within a browser powered by lots of script code. So technical challenge - full points. A solid development platform and environment - no.
    TonyMcS
  • Smart client needs to be OS neutral.

    A smart client is just an "internet aware" thick client that is easy to deploy and update. The smart client app would need to be OS neutral to work in the context described by this article. That means Java apps or some sort of app running in the browser along with the required browser plugins.

    I really don't get the hype over web 2.0 office apps. Why throw away all the resources on the local machines. Many machines in use today have enormous amounts of disk space, memory, and processor that are hardly being used. Why not utilize that power?

    - Jake
    Jake Danger
  • how about SOA Office

    Something that is pluggable with current office on your desktop...what are probable licensing issues in this kind of stuff?
    rohitashwa.jain@...