Wednesday, September 27, 2006

Online word processors wrap-up

So, I've tried Zoho Writer and Writely. I also tried an online word processor called ajaxWrite. You've seen the results, so all that's left are my final impressions.

ajaxWrite didn't do much for me. I wasn't able to upload any existing Word documents to it, although I tried multiple times. I was able to type up a document, but could not change the text color, add a picture, or post to a blog. Disappointing.

Zoho Writer featured my favorite interface, and was easiest to navigate thanks to the "My Documents" pane. Performance was better than ajaxWrite, but Zoho Writer still didn't do everything I wanted it to. Almost all of the options were there on the toolbar, but the buttons stopped working on each of my documents. So I wasn't actually able to insert a picture or a special character, or to change the color of the font. Zoho Writer was the only application to successfully upload my Word docs, and it retained most of the original formatting although the line spacing was off enough that a two-page document grew to three pages. Spell check worked well, although without an "add to dictionary" option a word like "Mecklenburg" had to be corrected multiple times (or ignored). Zoho Writer's right-click menu was helpful, featuring cup, copy, paste, select all, make link and alignment options.

Writely was the best of the three at producing a final document similar to the Microsoft Word "control" document. I was able to insert a picture, change text size, color and font face, and so on. Spell check worked as well as Zoho Writer's, with the welcome addition of being able to add a word to the dictionary. Special character insertion was easy. The right-click menu allowed me to cut, copy, paste, select all and insert. Navigation was a little clunky, but not so much as to be incapacitating. However, I was not able to convince Writely to upload any of my Word documents; I even tried emailing them as the site suggested, but was unsuccessful that way as well. However, text pasted into Writely from Word retained almost all formatting.

Drawbacks common to both Zoho Writer and Writely are few:

  • Because the documents created are actually HTML, it's hard to work with pictures and text doesn't always wrap around them well.
  • There's no "reveal codes" tool to help you figure out what you've done wrong, but you can navigate to the HTML code for the document for troubleshooting.
  • There's no way to zoom in or out on your document, and no way to see how it's going to look on the printed page, even using print preview. (Especially troublesome with pictures.)
  • Font faces and sizes are limited to standard HTML choices.
  • Margins can only be changed using the printer properties feature when printing from the web.
Despite all the negative things I've said about them, these online word processors are actually darn useful! I would encourage a library patron creating a resume to use them, for example, so he or she can easily access the file from any Internet-connected computer without having to keep up with a floppy disk or purchasing a USB drive. Anyone who can use Word should be able to use either Zoho Writer or Writely, and for creating a simple document they would work beautifully.

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