Why online software probably won’t work

Posted: May 2, 2008 in Uncategorized

It’s a concept that’s been around for many years, but has never really taken off. And now office-style online software, such as word processors and spreadsheets, is once again getting a lot of press. Google has had their online office software in beta for awhile now, but if it’s anything like their email service, it will still be in beta five years from now (you might think that was an attempt at humor or sarcasm…it wasn’t). Microsoft has also been working on an online version of MS Office, as has IBM with their Lotus suite. There are also lesser-known productivity suites from names like ThinkFree, Zoho, Ajax13, etc.

They don’t stand a chance of replacing desktop software. They probably won’t even achieve mediocre success. Here’s why:

Security
These companies argue that your computer is compromised, while their service is secure. Well, they’re right about your machine, anyway. Crackers love to target those services, and more often than not they eventually will get in…maybe even deep enough to look at your private documents. For example, have you lost count yet of the number of banks and credit card companies that have had their databases breached? Or more likely, they will crack the service to get directly to your machine. You might recall last month when poor programming by the web site developers resulted in a massive attack on Microsoft-powered web sites, giving crackers the ability to compromise your machine. There are other ways crackers get to you as well: last year Tom’s Hardware hosted a banner ad on their web site that contained a trojan, which would redirect you to a drive-by install of malware. A very similar advertisement snafu happened to customers using MSN/Windows Live Messenger. Search around, you’ll find lots of examples that opened corporate customers to harm. Do you truly trust the providers to write their code correctly and securely, and serve uncompromised content? It only takes one mistake, folks.

Connectivity/Accessibility
You go into a meeting with an important client, open your laptop so you can display your slide presentation, and…whoops, the room is shielded. No wireless. Now you can’t get to your presentation. That will look lovely on next year’s performance review. Or perhaps you’re on an airline flight and want to work on your documents. Or you’re at a Starbucks and your minutes ran dry. Or you’re in the middle of nowhere trying to write your latest novel. Or your own hard-wired Internet connection is on the fritz. Sorry, no soup for you.

Reliability
Data loss. Dontcha hate it? A network router dies, a RAID array goes fubar, the backup system didn’t run today, or any number of other things could cook your data. You’re hosed. Happens more often than anyone wants to admit, too. Hey, suppose you suffer a power outage or your battery suddenly quits, or the computer totally hangs before you can save a document…was there an automatic draft saved every 10 minutes or so? Probably not with online services…

Collaboration
They’re touting collaboration as a positive aspect of online software suites, but come on…you’re NOT collaborating. You’re simply sharing, or making accessible, your documents to others. The other person makes changes, you aren’t aware of those changes, and you send this huge report to your boss that has a new comment about shaving your dog’s butt and making him walk backwards. Collaboration is specifically what products like NetMeeting were designed to do: the other person sees YOUR document hosted on YOUR machine in REAL time, and you decide whether or not to give editing control of it over to the other person.

Features
Admittedly, when it comes to a word processor most people probably don’t need anything more than WordPad to kick off a letter to be printed. But just how many features can you get to work in a browser? I really have no idea how equal the feature sets are between installed office suites and online office suites, but I suspect the online stuff is rather bare in comparison.

Speed
You’ve got this crazy-fast Core2 Quad processor. Does the speed of your Internet connection compare? (Yes, that is a rhetorical question). Firefox 2 has more than twice the performance as IE7 (Firefox 3 will eventually have 10 times the performance), but what if the particular online suite you’re using doesn’t fully support Firefox? You go half as fast (or later, 10% as fast) as you could have, that’s what. Which leads to…

Compatibility
You like to use Firefox, but do you really think Microsoft will design their product to work just as well in Firefox as it will work in IE? And those other companies are probably focusing more on one browser than the rest as well. Kinda puts you into a pigeon-holed situation.

I just don’t see online office suites gaining much of a foothold…

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