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Why "Google Gears" is a Bad Idea for Offline Doc Editing

WebWorkerDaily (which I read and love for the inspiration it gives to tech nomads) has an article today about how Zoho is offering an offline mode for document editing and how this is great and how it's lame that Google docs doesn't have this feature.

I started to leave a comment for them but 1) their comment system ate my comment and 2) I wanted to make a picture to explain my point which I can't insert into their comments.

Complexity of Medium and Value in Editing On The Web

This feels pretty intuitive to me, but apparently it's not that intuitive since Zoho didn't figure it out (and they're smart).

So, at the top left are situations like basic email, basic text editing. Think about your 10 year old kid writing a paper for school. If she uses Microsoft Word to do that it's a waste of time and money. No one will argue the money aspect, but online document editing will be faster in terms of his time since it is simpler to learn and do what she needs.

In the middle imagine something like a spreadsheet for keeping track of your expenses or for adding up and assigning costs on a trip among a group of friends. If you use an online spreadsheet anyone can add to it and you get the sharing benefits. However, if you're a spreadsheet jockey it's tedious to use the online editors and you are prohibited from more complex capabilities built into desktop applications (monte carlo analysis? macros?).

At the bottom right imagine drawing tools like Adobe or Gimp or Inkscape and video editing. Editing high-definition video over the web? It's going to be a while (and a revolution or two in bandwidth and HTML UI) before everyday people will do that. Sure, when you upload to revver you pick your thumbnail in a nice web UI, but 100% of revver users are doing some sort of off-line editing before uploading because...

Operating system native tools are going to provide better UI/Interaction than browser based tools for at least another 5 years. As long as that's the case, we might as well take advantage of the off-line status and simply let the web provide the "not as good but available from any networked computer" features that it does. Zoho would have been much better off spending their time improving integration with cross platform open source desktop publishing applications (i.e. OpenOffice.org)

Offline mode for Google Docs

Offline features of Googles Docs are already available for free via File > Export As OpenOffice.org and Export as a ton of other things (html, Microsoft Office format, etc.).

All we need now is glue code that lets the OpenOffice.org "Open File" dialog include your documents from Google Docs and the Save dialog save to Google docs. That's a stronger long-term strategy in my mind than simply providing offline editing via the relatively low-quality JavaScript tools like Zoho has done. It's basically like IMAP for your documents. If IMAP makes sense for simple text editing in emails, it makes 5 times more sense for documents since editing needs in email are less sophisticated. The techy crowd already has this (we call it a revision control system) but it's too complex for most people.

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Save As... is not the same as Offline

Much in the same way Save isn't auto-recovery. When my word processor crashed, without real auto-recovery, I had to press Save manually every few sentences to make sure I didn't lose much. And you usually only got in that habit that once you lost a lot of work.

If you rely on Save As... for your Offline mode, it isn't until your lose your internet connection that you realize how handy automatic offline capability really is. Or when you are traveling without a net connection and realize that you didn't export ALL of your documents to your local machine and you wish you had because that document you were working on last month might really be useful.

When I think of Offline mode, once its installed and working its somewhat seamless. There is no export/import step.

I realize Save As... can get the same affect if you want, but its still not the same.

As for making Google Docs a repository for OpenOffice.org, that isn't Google Docs. That's OpenOffice.org with a backup, with a different user experience when you want to access your documents when you aren't on your home machine. That ends up giving two user experiences. Kind of like using Outlook and Webmail to access your Exchange mailbox.

As far as I can tell Google and Zoho are shooting for low volume/low tech users. I agree that Google Docs and Zoho won't match the capability of OpenOffice.org or Microsoft Office in usability especially for documents that fall further to the right of your graph. However, they probably won't need to. A mostly online office suite with just a small offline component (like Gears) should cover the needs of most small offices/students. For those two markets, online productivity software has another advantage. For small offices its a way to create shared documents without having to manage a small server. For students its a way to access their stuff in multiple locations (dorm, lab, parent's home, a friends, etc).

It may take 5 years for online components to match the offline user experience. But you have to start somewhere. And who knows, if the right user base is found to push innovation, it may not take 5 years.

Did you do any research

Did you do any research before you came up that chart?? Do any usability studies back you claims???
My anecdotal evidence runs contrary to what you a postulating here.
I think because you are considering the docs in isolation for the rest of the google eco system. The key word hers is "online" so Google Docs works best when you uses them for information sharing and collaboration
I use google spreadsheets extensively for managing various software projects.(Indeed i got the idea from a Googler who i met at pycon2006 who says that GDocs is used extensively at google for this purpose!!!). I use the docs with the google sites/calendar etc. Each client/project etc has a site which i uses for scheduling, resource management and communications.
The interactivity/concurrency on the spreadsheets is fantastic and have you taken a look a the web aware functions??? You are of course aware that he thing comes with an API??
I've started to use the forms for user bug reporting since end users get confused by TRAC. I also use the forms for small small surveys since there is built in analysis/reporting

Indeed recently I am am finding that I only use OO/ for text documents like letters etc. since i think the Gwriter is too much like a static web page (low interactivity potential) and in any case i've got lots of templates built already but i've seen that t they've recently added templates so i'll see if i can get some ideas there.

Indeed after about 9 months i'm dumping my Basecamp/37 signals stuff since i think google offers much more for the buck. Yes i'm upgrading to the profession edition

well...

Since the the squiggly lines weren't apparently weren't enough of a visual cue: no, there is no study behind this. But I do think that it's obvious.

Show me an:
1. Online photo editor
2. Online video editor
3. Online graphic design program
4. Online integrated development environment

There are a handful, but all very weak and nobody who has those tasks as their all day thing uses the online versions. Note that when I say "complexity of task" I don't mean "hard for the end user to think about" I mean "complexity of the file formats involved."

Apple offers something similar

Apple is now offering a similar service using their iwork suite on line. I tried it and I was rather dismayed by the results. I think I will continue to use computer based programs for a while longer and not these on line services. Thanks for posting and validating my opinion.

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