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Word Processing - Off or Online?

David Silversmith
David Silversmith

Microsoft Word will be released in 2010 as part of the Microsoft Office Suite but for many people this will be the first release of Office where users will really have to consider the issue of desktop software like Office or online software like Google Docs.
Which word processing approach is best: the desktop applications (one that is actually installed on a local machine ie. your computer) or web-based applications (one that is accessible via an Internet browser and over the Internet)?  As the web-based options have developed over the last few years, some users have switched to the online word processors like Google Docs or Zoho.  But few corporations have switched and few versions have 100% moved away from the industry leading desktop Microsoft Office.

However, when Microsoft disclosed the retail prices for Office 2010 they revealed that they have no plans to offer "upgrade" editions — the discounted versions for users who already have an earlier edition on their PCs.  This move will effectively raise the price for many users who want to migrate from older editions of the popular suite and may open the window for many people to consider the online word processing options. So what are the pros and cons - how will folks decide how to spend their money on the basic word processing application.

What are the advantages to a desktop Word Processor app?

  • Desktop word processors do not need the Internet to operate. - Even in today’s day and age the Internet is widespread, but not everywhere you go. There are still many rural areas where the primary Internet service option is a slow dial-up.  Also, there are also the so many countries where Internet connectivity is not very developed.  

  • There are many more features available in most desktop-based word processors. - While the web-based applications are being enhanced almost every week, the desktop applications still have more features than the online word processors like Google Docs. 

  • The user has more control when the program goes offline. - Google and Zoho have pretty good track records for up-time, but if they go offline you have no access to the word processor or to the files you created.  For many people, that loss of control is pretty risky. 

What are the advantages to a web-based Word Processor app?

  • You can access your documents from any computer with an Internet connection and a web browser. - For many people this eliminates the need to carry around their laptop.  If you have a home computer and a work computer, you may find it easier to work on documents using these two computers.

  • You can collaborate more easily with a document written with a web-based word processor. - Many applications allow you to invite collaborators to make changes to your documents.  If you routinely shared and edit documents with other people, the online approach can be a huge improvement over sending files back and forth via email and trying to keep track of which copy is the latest copy of the document.

  • Online Word Processors are cheaper - The leading products, Google Docs and Zoho Docs, are both available in free and premium (paid versions). 

So, which Word Processor should you use?

While Microsoft Word 2010 is not free, it will include access to Office Web Apps.  Microsoft is designing a web version to compete with Google Docs and Zoho.  Microsoft is emphasizing that their tools will allow for smooth integration between desktop (offline) work and web based (online) word processing. 

Even with all these options, many people will continue to use both types of Word Processors for different purposes because of unique strengths and weaknesses.  Also, many people will continue to use Office 2007, Office 2003 or the even older versions that remain on the software.  Because, for many users, they use only a small percentage of the features in today's word processors.

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