I've been using web-based office tools. It's been easy. I've enjoyed the experience. I'm a little shocked.

During the last two months or so I've written two conference papers using (mainly) the web versions of the Apple iWork apps (which are part of iCloud). Nothing problematic or confidential - just writing my scripts and pulling my slides together. I decided to try this as part of my ongoing quest to find a writing platform that works for me. This was the perfect opportunity to test working between web apps and their desktop counterparts.

Admittedly I'm not, as yet, brave enough to rely wholly on web apps, the installed version of iWork on my Mac is not as feature-rich as Office (although I only use a fraction of its capabilities) and I can't speak to the ultimate stability of the web versions Pages or Keynote as I haven't tested them with anything of particular length or complexity.* Nor have I tried any of the options for collaboration à la Google Docs.

But, for the sort of piecemeal writing I've been doing (working in fits and starts, editing on the fly and so on) they've been superb. Having the files hosted in the cloud and available from inside the appropriate app (web or desktop) is incredibly convenient. It's been especially useful in those situations when I've been working within the web apps on computers that don't have local copies of iWork installed or aren’t synced with my iCloud account. The interface is nice and light and, from the point of view of using them as tools to get stuff done, I think I prefer this generation of iWork to the previous one. There's less to figure out and, with the exception of a live word-count in the web version of Pages, most of the stuff I need is there. It doesn't take a lot of googling to find people were upset by the changes in the desktop versions of iWork made between iWork '09 and the current one (and I can see why if they broke something you rely on), but I've appreciated the consistency between the web apps and their desktop counterparts. Printing and and exporting files as Office documents from the web hasn't caused me any particular problems either. The only thing that went slightly wonky were the Keynote transitions when I exported my presentation as a Powerpoint file (which didn't take long to fix).

Yes, you have to agree to live in Apple's world, but for the sort of project where I'm writing for myself and there's nothing sensitive in the documents, it's ideal. As far as I can tell, the decision to use Apple's services for personal or small projects isn't radically different from deciding to go with Google or Microsoft and their cloud-based office solutions. In fact, this experience has made me think more carefully about the potential for web apps in organisations (notwithstanding all the usual caveats concerning security, recordkeeping and so on).

I suspect everyone will have a moment when they realise how far web apps have come. Mine was when I found myself double-checking to see whether I was working in a native application or a browser window. That's the sort of seamless experience I've been looking for. I think, for now, I've found my brand.

 


* Both papers were c.2000-3000 words of text without tables or images, but they did have footnotes. The slides I've made for the Information and Records Management Society conference next month are about as simple as they can be; text on a white background (although I did spend some time thinking about fonts and there are a couple of basic transitions here and there).

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