Technology and Libraries: Desktop or Internet Office?
Systems & Technology Librarian
Schaffer Library of Health Sciences
Albany Medical College
A variety of Internet-based office products, such as Google Docs (http://docs.google.com), Zoho (http://www.zoho.com), and Microsoft Office Live (http://workspace.officelive.com) have popped up to challenge traditional desktop-based office products. While not new, they are developing new features that might pose a threat to more established (and expensive) products like Microsoft Office, as least for some. All are still in beta format, and are works in progress.
The best way to learn is by trying them out. All are free, though require registration. Sampling both desktop and Internet varieties gives you an idea of the pros and cons of each, as well as what kinds of projects each might be good for. Practicing with test files or other non-crucial material is advised. Try setting up margins, adding colors, changing presentation templates, etc. to see how things work.
As an Office 2007 user, the biggest thing I noticed is that most of the Internet products do not yet let you upload Office 2007 documents. In Word 2007, file names end in “docx” (as opposed to “.doc” in previous verstions). Not surprisingly perhaps, Microsoft Office Live permits this. When trying to upload a .docx file in Google Docs, the system tells you that this file extension is not supported. This leaves the only option as saving the file in the older Word file extension, and uploading it that way. Zoho.com lets you export Office 2007 files from their site but not import them.
Internet-based products seem well-suited for collaborative projects, as they allow you to easily add collaborators. This permits easier editing than if doing them in Office, where one might e-mail a file back and forth. In some cases chat windows are also available, so you can talk to collaborators while working on a project. Expect fewer layout bells and whistles though. Fonts are limited, as are things such as bullet types and symbols. When I exported a file from Microsoft Office to Zoho, I found that many of my layout choices did not transfer over. I had to redo some of the bullet points and fonts. However, the content was all still there. The files also save a bit slower than they do when working in Microsoft Office.
Changes are afoot to bring the Internet products even closer to their desktop peers. Not long ago, you had to be logged onto the site to work on your files. Now, you can work on them even while “offline.” The spreadsheet products feature pivot tables. Most of the products also have their own blogs to alert users of new features.
As they offer fewer bells and whistles, I also found many of the Internet products easier to use for a beginner. Whereas PowerPoint might intimidate some, the Internet-based versions are more “click and add.” One could likely prepare a presentation or spreadsheet with very little prior experience.
Being relatively new products, things are not perfect with the Internet suites. Occasionally I experienced bugs, and the Microsoft versions certainly offer more layout choices. If one wants vast layout or customization options, then they might want to stick with the desktop versions. Privacy is also an issue, as desktop files appear safer, being saved on one’s computer or flash drive instead of another company’s server. However, Internet-based office products keep improving and offer more flexibility. They are certainly worth considering.