Writing in the Cloud - online documents

Listen to the podcast Question: What is the advantage of using a service such as Google Docs? I already have a word processor on my computer, so why would I choose to use an online word processor? The IT Guy says: The increasing power and ubiquity of the Internet makes it possible to provide online
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Question:What is the advantage of using a service such as Google Docs? I already have a word processor on my computer, so why would I choose to use an online word processor?

The IT Guy says:
The increasing power and ubiquity of the Internet makes it possible to provide online services that actually replace applications on your desktop or laptop computer. Of course, this is just a return to the original way people used computers in "The Olden Days"—i.e., when I was young—where the computer lived off in some other room or building and you typed at a remote terminal. One that has proven to be quite popular is Google Docs. You have to create an account to use the service, but once you do you can create in your browser window documents that have most of the major options that a basic word processor will provide, including a choice of fonts and formatting, and the ability to insert images, weblinks, and tables. Once you have the document created, you may save it online, print it, or save it to your local computer in a variety of formats, including the standard Word doc or as an Adobe Acrobat PDF.

So why do it? There are two major advantages. First, because the document is online, you can access it from any computer. In this day and age, many of us work on multiple computers in multiple settings, and keeping track of where a particular document is can be maddening. A file in Google Docs, on the other hand, can be accessed from any Internet-connected computer. Second, you can share an online Google document with anyone—person or group—with a Google account. If you have a paper that needs to be accessible to multiple people for editing and collaboration, you can easily set that up with this system. Even better, like a wiki, it tracks all edits made to the document, so you can go back and remove changes if you need to. For student groups working together, it can be a great way to go.

Google Docs is not the only way to go, of course. One new player on the block is Adobe, with their new service Buzzword. It has all of the online advantages of Google Docs, and also a very slick and polished interface with more editing control options, including headers and footers with page numbers. It also will export in multiple formats, including the new Office 2007 .xml formats. Strangely enough, however, it won't export in Adobe's own .pdf format! But Buzzword is still in pre-release form, so I expect that feature will be added sometime soon. It would be too ironic otherwise. Another service is Versionate, which lets you upload existing Word, Excel, PDF or PowerPoint documents to be shared and edited online.

There are two major disadvantages to this online approach. The most obvious, of course, is that if you lose your connection to the Internet, you are completely out of luck. Second, particularly from a school perspective, is that the files are residing somewhere outside your network—and thus outside your control. Many districts are hyper-sensitive about the security of any district-related documents, and the fact that these all reside somewhere beyond the fortified boundaries of the district network creates a serious heartburn situation for your IT staff. As of right now, none of these services can be hosted on your own servers, but hopefully that will change soon.

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