Posted by: nickgerlich | October 31, 2007

Cloud Burst

My first experience with a word processor was on my roommate’s Kaypro computer back in 1985. He had this amazing little program called Word Star on it. With his nifty daisy wheel printer and the glow-in-the-dark green monitor, we were wild and crazy graduate students, computing our ways into the professorate (he is now at Ohio State, and presumably has a much better computer these days).

A few years later I really cut my teeth on Word Perfect (long before Corel ever bought it), and became enamored of the ability to not only enter and store text, but also mark it up with all kinds of formatting. It was a far cry from the beastly typesetting machine we had used in 1980 when I edited our college newspaper.

But by the mid- to late-1990s, Microsoft began to achieve dominance. Their Office suite of products (Word, Excel, Powerpoint) became the industry standard, and I was forced to make the transition in order to just stay current, if anything.

More recetly, the free Open Office suite has become available for those who are either too cheap or too broke to pony up the bucks to Bill Gates. It works great, and has total compatibility with Office products. Take that, Bill Gates! No more billions for you.

ZohoBut all that is mere foreplay to what is happening today: the advent of web-based tools that can be accessed anywhere and by anyone you invite. Collaborative writing is now the gold standard, and computer-based apps like Word may soon become a dinosaur.

Leading the pack are Google and Zoho with their suite of free products that make working from a distance a snap.

But that is where the comparison ends. Google has amassed its suite of products primarily through acquisition, and it still shows. Zoho has been built up from the ground, and has a much more coordinated look and feel. They function similarly with WYSIWYG editors and toolbars, but you almost have to know in advance what apps Google has in order to take advantage of them. Zoho, though, makes it easy to launch a multitude of programs right from their homepage.

The point, of course, is that everything evolves, and even Microsoft is not immune. The Ofice suite of products could indeed become just a space hog on our computers before long, another one of those programs that sits there but is seldom if ever used.

With collaboration receiving much buzz (not to mention being a requirement in my online courses), it stands to reason that our computers and laptops need less to have these bulky programs resident on hard drives, and need more to simply have ubiquitous broadband connectivity.

Our homes and offices are now nearly always online, and the line between work and home has blured to the point of indistinction. I no longer want to email files to myself (or collaborators) or tote flash drives with me. No, my documents follow me around, my own personal data cloud, and I can invite anyone over to my cloud whenever I wish.

And that is a ray of sunshine on my otherwise hectic life.

Dr “Safe and Sound in the Sunshine State” Gerlich


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