You Can Take It with You: Online Apps Help Road Warriors; Google and Newcomer Zoho Offer Suites of Office and Productivity Software You Can Use Anywhere You Have a Connection to the Web

Article excerpt

When I was a baby librarian, my mindset was that librarianship was practiced in libraries.

It seemed logical, and I never dreamed that mindset would become such an artifact of another age. Then I found myself spending my early career in special libraries where most of my work contact was outside of my small library. The research technology started to catch up later when I could "get online" to the New York Times, InfoGlobe, Dialog, LexisNexis, and others long forgotten from anywhere I could connect my dial-up modem. I could even take some major databases along on CD-ROM.

Eventually I developed the mindset that the library was me and that I could practice anywhere. That mindset has stood me in good stead for many years as I practice librarianship from conference centers, airports, planes, and hotels around the world with little effect on the quality of my work (I hope!). Laptops with broadband wireless connectivity and long battery life have become the norm--and help considerably. I can also search and pick up e-mail on my phone. Of course, the Web seems to be ubiquitously available as long as you can find a Starbucks or another wireless hotspot.

That said, it has been surprisingly difficult to be entirely seamless with respect to my physical location and the locations of my files (documents, spreadsheets, presentations, contact lists, etc.). Of course, I could try to remember to make sure they were loaded on my laptop or I could bring along a USB drive with docs I might potentially need, and I could e-mail docs to myself and pick them up on business center PCs--sometimes you just have to print! These strategies work, but it seems that the one document you actually need to make your life easier is the one you can't get at from afar. Then you get that sinking feeling that you're going to have to recreate. Yuck.

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I think times are changing. Two major outfits (and lots more) are offering the ability to do all of the things you do within your office suite applications and more without need for hard drives and the like. Web-based office suites are moving into prime time. I'll highlight two in this month's column: Google Docs and Zoho.

We can see Zoho and Google assembling a suite of Web-based applications. It's more than that, though. In the near term, it's also a suite of applications that more seamlessly integrate with today's workflow. It aligns with our modern lifestyles where work, learning, play, and entertainment overlap. Add this to a trend towards smaller, more functional and more ubiquitous mobile devices like the Apple iPhone and rumored MS and Google phones, and we see a real shift in the technology firmament.

Ultimately, these will create team collaboration opportunities on a scale that Lotus Notes could only dream of in the past. (Then again, IBM/Lotus has started making rumblings in this space with their Lotus Symphony re-launch.) Google is providing tools to permit and authenticate users into your documents for collaborative work.

So what can we expect from the two major players out in the market so far?

Google

Originally, Google Docs was a list of products that were developed internally or acquired by Google. There was Google Docs and Google Spreadsheets--and then Google Docs and Spreadsheets. Then came Google Presentations and a return to the Google Docs brand for creating, storing, and sharing documents, spreadsheets, and presentations on the Web. Since Google Docs accepts many of the most popular file formats, including DOC, XLS, ODT, ODS, RTF, CSV, PPT, and so on, I suppose it was easier to simplify.

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You can import your existing documents, spreadsheets, and presentations or create new ones from scratch. More importantly, you can access and edit the documents from any Web-connected browser. And, if your team is all over the place, you can share changes in real time and invite people to review your documents and make changes together, at the same time. …