When Platforms Shift
Word processing is the most-used of the desktop office applications and those of us on the Virtual Ubiquity team have been in that business for a long time. Some of us have built word and text processors for Lotus, Atex, Interleaf, Trellix, and Texet. Others have worked on collaborative software like Notes, eRoom, and QuickTopic.
And we’ve all used word processors like Wang, WordStar, Word Perfect, Lotus Manuscript, Volkswriter, PFSWrite. But, my guess is that many reading this have heard of few of these.
There’s a reason for that – word processors live and die with their platforms.
Wang was the reigning word processor when stand-alone word processing systems owned the office cubicles. WordStar was the most popular word processor on some of the first popular personal computers running CP/M and early versions of DOS. WordPerfect came to dominate the DOS market but couldn’t make the leap to Windows where MS Word became dominant. In each case, the newcomer took the market from the established product because the newcomer could innovate and take advantage of a new technical platform faster and better than the established players.
You may not remember what writing was like back then, but we used to have to print out a document in order to see what it would look like. We also didn’t have proportional fonts or the ability to embed graphics or make tables, or use cool-looking fonts. Apple introduced the world to WYSIWYG word processing when they introduced the Mac. Microsoft then capitalized on that GUI (Graphical User Interface) with Word for Windows.
I point all this out, not to reminisce about the good/bad old days, but to lend perspective to our decision to bring yet another word processor to market. Tim O’Reilly’s Web 2.0 essay back in 2005, declaring that the web has become the new computing platform, started us thinking – it’s the platform, stupid – if we’ve got a new platform, it’s time for a new word processor.
But it’s not enough to pour old wine onto a new platform. What’s important is that we exploit that new platform by using it to bring new capabilities to writers that the old platform couldn’t support. And the cool things you get when you move a word processor to the web are:
* Platform independence
* Ubiquitous access
* Better support for collaboration
When the web becomes the platform, the machine we use to access our tools and documents can be anything – a Windows, Mac, or Linux box running a standard browser and the Flash 9 player are all you need. And as the hardware evolves from laptop to tablet to desktop or PDA or enhanced cell phone, we should be able to provide an appropriate level of usability.
For example, three people might be collaborating on a document. The author is on a Mac. She sends an invitation to two colleagues for comments. One is sitting at his desk and brings up the document on his Windows box while the thirds collaborator is on the road with access through a Palm Treo or maybe an Apple iPhone. It makes little sense to try to edit the document from the mobile phone, but what if you could read it and leave voice comments?
Consider the case of a high school student in her room working on her home computer – a Mac – to complete the rough draft of an essay. She saves it on the Mac intending to finish it the next evening, but when she gets to school she finds that her English class is cancelled for the day. She goes to the library, signs in on one of the Windows PCs, logs into her BuzzWord account and resumes work on the essay. At some point she feels she could use help from a fellow student, so she sends an invitation to her friend who can access the document from where ever she is and do a little peer editing.
With Buzzword, you and your collaborators have access to the document from any web connection.
Better Support for Collaboration
For years collaboration has been a feature few people use. The work-around has been MS Word and email. But this really isn’t a very good solution. Once you start emailing edited versions of documents around, confusion reigns. Who has which version? Which is the latest? How many versions of a document end up saved on your hard drive once the project is complete?
With a word processor that lives in the cloud, there’s only one instance of the document, all collaborators have access to it, and everyone’s literally on the same page. This makes possible new ways of managing the collaboration and displaying the results.