Collaboration plus productivity

As conversations about Office Live Workspace emerge, I expect to read more like this one:

Tim: What happens when you are working on a document at the airport, your wi-fi pass expires, and you hit Save? Maybe a beta tester can answer this. Does Word or Excel prompt for a local copy instead? And if you save such a copy, how do you sync up the changes later?

Kip: Just tried it, Tim. Opened a document from Workspaces, made a change, disconnected from the internet, and hit “Save to Office Live”. Word immediately opened the local My Documents folder and offered to save it there, just as if it was a local file.

Tim: Thanks for checking this out. That’s not ideal in my view. It should save it locally but automatically synch it at the next opportunity.

In fact, I think the folder in which Workspace offered to save Kip’s file was a Workspace folder, not a local one. At least, that’s what I saw when I repeated the experiment:

From there, I clicked the Save button and saw this:

Fair enough. Network problems were preventing a connection to the server. I’d have needed to make a conscious choice to save locally.

What then? A variety of scenarios are plausible. That’s the good news, but also the bad news, about having an offline option. When editable documents can live on multiple local drives and in the cloud, people need to be aware of multiple names and locations. It’s inherently harder to collaborate. But you can untether, and you can use full-strength applications.

With Google Docs, where there is only a single cloud-based editable document, people need only keep track of one name and location. It’s inherently easier to collaborate. But you’re always tethered, and (for now) you can only use rudimentary applications.

Given the differing capabilities — and ubiquities! — of browser-based and native applications, there is no single right approach. But as always, extremes converge. Office Live Workspace already has web-only components, like its simple AJAX note writer, which tends toward the model of a single cloud-based editable document and optimizes for collaboration. Meanwhile Zoho already has a Google Gears-based offline mode, and a plug-in for Word and Excel. It goes the other way, enabling editable documents to be in more than one place and enhancing productivity.

One way or another, we arrive at a midpoint along the continuum which is aptly described by the phrase software plus services. The challenge for everyone will be to figure out how best to merge the collaboration benefits of one model with the productivity benefits of the other.

5 Comments

  1. I would look at Microsoft OneNote. I think it handles network failures in the manner you were describing: attempts to save to network, if that fails, silently saves it locally. When you re-establish your network connection, the doc is sync’d.

  2. Hmm Jon.
    I just tried it again, since you called me out. Here’s the steps I took:

    Opened Word 2007 on Vista
    Clicked on Open Office Live, signed in, nav to Documents folder, opened a file
    Made a change, clicked on Save to Office Live, file was saved to the web
    Unplugged the network cable on the back of my computer
    Made another change in the doc, clicked on Save to Office Live
    after some pause, the save to Vista>Documents dialog box opened, offering to save the doc locally.

    Are we not on the same page, here?
    Maybe you could get some clarification from Kirk Gregerson or someone else from Office Live Workspaces.

    I will say that a scenario that would sync cloud to desktop (*cough* FeedSync) would go a long way in cleaning up scenarios like this when the network connection comes back on; as you say, now there are multiple versions stored in multiple places, not an ideal situation.

  3. As a programmer used to version control systems, I’d expect modern software to be aware of the state of local file copies:
    Are they in sync with the file on the server, are there local modifications which couldn’t be sent to the server so far, or is there a conflict?
    (CVS knew how to do this 15 years ago…)
    Whenever there’s a network connection, local modifications could/should be automatically committed to the server.

  4. “I will say that a scenario that would sync cloud to desktop (*cough* FeedSync) would go a long way in cleaning up scenarios”

    Yes, but…

    “As a programmer used to version control systems, I’d expect modern software to be aware of the state of local file copies”

    And you the user are also necessarily aware of the fact that a) there are local copies, and b) what their status is.

  5. Doesn’t Groove provide transparent switching between online and offline (modulo conflicting edits when going back online)? So MS own the knowledge of how to do this well.

    As soon as the concept of “file” leaks back in, something’s wrong IMO. I want to think about documents, versions of documents, and who has what type of access. I don’t want to think about “files” and “copies”.

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