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Word Processing Accessible to Everyone

posted Oct 24, 2011, 2:57 AM by Jack Marrows   [ updated Oct 24, 2011, 2:57 AM ]
Google Docs is an online productivity suite offering a word processor, spreadsheet and presentation application (Google, 2010). Despite being a web application, its functionality and user interface places it in direct competition with traditional desktop applications such as Microsoft Word and iWork.

Docs boasts many advantages over its desktop counterparts. Documents:
  • are easily shared, instantly updated and can be accessed by multiple people simultaneously, 
  • offer added functionality through application programming interfaces such asGoogle Lookup and 
  • are backed up on many servers to ensure they are not lost. 
To encourage collaboration and ease of access, all documents are searchable anduniquely addressable through a URL. Furthermore, Google Docs ensures files can be accessed from any location with an internet connection, without the need to install an application (Strickland, n.d.).

Web browsers are responsible for rendering Docs’ user interface (UI) and a majority of the heavy processing is done server-side. Most popular web browsers are supported (see below) and when cross-referenced with browser usage statistics we find that 88.3% of the world’s browsers can use Docs. HTML and Javascript is used to render the UI client-side. AJAX script creates regular links to the server instantly updating the document when it is edited (Strickland, n.d.).

Docs is subject to limitations common amongst rich internet applications (RIAs). Browser, broadband speed and reliability limitations means Docs can be slower to access data and respond to user input when compared to desktop applications. File storage is limited by the allowance offered by Google (currently 1gb free). Furthermore, security concerns are often raised surrounding documents being stored online. Finally, Docs functionality is limited compared to the likes of MS Word (Strickland, n.d.).

ThinkFree is a word processer, similar to Docs. However, before using the RIA users download a java applet, this allows the application to offer greater functionality. This may be an avenue Google may need to take in the future to compete with the functionality of desktop applications (Gottipati, 2007).

Google docs and ThinkFree represent only a couple of RIAs currently on the market, with many more available or in development. Compliance with HTML5 standards will require browsers to perform tasks traditionally performed by operating systems and RIAs may replace a majority of desktop applications. This shift will see these services (applications) offer consistent interfaces and functionality, to everyone, anywhere, at anytime without the need for high powered processors or installation.

With the global movement towards RIAs is there any applications that won’t work as an RIA?

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