This post is a mini-review of the new online documents service ‘Docs’, no not Google Docs. My invitation email for http://docs.com came through yesterday and I only applied for the beta last week! Everyone can visit the site and sign in with your Facebook username.
The service that’s being created is yet another online document creation and sharing service, the only difference is that it’s backed by Microsoft. It has the Microsoft office interface and can open documents in the desktop counterpart. The service offers 3 web apps, Word, Powerpoint and Excel.
The first thing you should notice is that the layout looks like the office you use on your computer (roughly) and so the transition to this is instant and you’ll have no problems switching straight to the web interface. The only problem I can see is the size of the window you get for document editing. Looking at it, your document will only actually fill about 2/3 of the screen as there’s a thick band at the top and bottom and a Facebook bar on the right. With bigger screens you will get a bigger editing space, but at the moment it just looks as though I’m looking through a window at word… If that makes sense. As far as I can see, there’s no ‘fullscreen’ button, which would make this a feasible alternative to using word offline.
The next application I tried was Powerpoint. This, again has the look and feel of the desktop suite, but when you click through the ribbon interface, you’ll find that there are hardly any features. Most buttons have been removed and there really aren’t many options.
I’m aware that this is a BETA service so the whole service is likely to change before final release, but at the moment there are some problems. Currently you can’t insert pictures onto slides, the button appears greyed out, at least the feature is planned before final release. Another area where the ‘newness’ is exposed is when you enter texts into text boxes. To edit a box, you tap into it, type and tap out of it (just like on the desktop version), however this is accompanied by a loading box and rotating circle. This only remains for a second or two, but it becomes annoying, especially if you only wanted to add one character to a text box.
Excel was the last application I tested, and it was this I felt was most promising. Everything worked as it should and it was fast and efficient to use. I’m not what you’d call an Excel ‘Power user’, the most advanced formulae I use is ‘sum’, so I’m probably not the best person to test the advanced features it might offer. But out of them all, Excel was the only web app I could start using today.
As the service is now, it’s no alternative to the desktop version of office. If you really need office online, I’d stick to using Google Docs for now. The Facebook integration doesn’t add anything to the experience that Google ‘collaboration’ doesn’t offer. In fact, it’s quite annoying Facebook being attached to what documents you’re working with. I also found it a shame that the Direct upload option is the only method you can use to get documents into the service. There’s no option for email upload or copying from other Microsoft LIVE services.
The other problem is that this is just another Microsoft branded service that’s not integrated with any of its other services. If you’re using office 2007 (or 2010 for that matter) you’ll be able to save documents to Office LIVE workspaces:
This, in itself is a great idea but I think this is the wrong service to integrate it with. Because Workspaces is still separate from SkyDrive, myPhone, LIVEmesh, Photos etc. In my ideal world, SkyDrive would be the equivalent of your computer hard drive where you store every bit of data you have. LIVEmesh, Office workspaces, Docs, myPhone etc would all be the equivalent of applications. All of these would be able to access your documents from SkyDrive, so at least you’d have all your files in one place. Because at the moment, to write a document with a picture from your phone, you’d have to do the following:
Sync the phone into myPhone, download the picture to your computer, upload it back into the required service and then insert it into the document… doesn’t that sound pointless?