In this edition of Getting Work Done Online we'll be taking a look at the workhorse of any office suite, the word processor. Online text editing has been around in some fashion for many years, but it's never really been captured effectively until recently. The ubiquitous 'Word doc' has been the gold standard for text documents for over two decades. Now, with the advent of some on-line competitors, as well as it's own attempt, writing your term paper can maybe be done in the cloud.
Again, I used a personal document as my test. Just like last week there were some issues with the file, but this time it was my own fault. The file I used was from many years ago when I had decided to work with OpenOffice for my word processor of choice, while I was in graduate school. Thankfully Google Drive was able to import it, but the result was less than ideal. So I took the imported document, exported it to Word, cleaned it up, and re-imported it into each of the three services.
As far as complexity goes, this document was moderately complex. It was a large block of text with endnotes, a header, and some basic formatting. I did test each service's image manipulation capabilities by adding an image to the document using the tools that each service provided.
Google Drive is once again proving to be the cream of the crop when it comes to online office suites. Not only was it able to read my OpenOffice document format, it re-imported the Word doc without issue, and maintained most of the formatting of the original document.
All the basic text formatting capabilities worked as advertised, and were accessible in an intuitive manner. The header came through from the Word doc, but it did have some issue with the table that was embedded in it. In the original Word doc, the header consisted of a two cell table with only a bottom border. Google Drive imported the text, and formatted it correctly with both portions of text justified on opposite sides, but it left the table behind. Google Drive does do tables, but in this case, it didn't quite know how to convert one from Word.
Google Drive also does not do endnotes, so all of those were converted to links (that didn't work, so not sure of the point). However, Google Drive does do footnotes, so with a little work you can convert endnotes to footnotes, and they work perfectly. If you're starting a document from scratch it shouldn't be an issue.
Finally, I imported an image and I was able to re-size and drag-n-drop it around the text. It worked as advertised, but your options are very limited. You can choose to have the image inline with the text, or with the text wrapped around it. That's it.
Sharing is suburb, as it is in all of the Google apps suite. You can share your document and edit it in real-time with with collaborators.
Google Drive performed quite well with this test document, and should be quite adequate for most people's word processing needs.
This time around, Microsoft's Word Web App was a huge disappointment. It was very lacking in features beyond basic text formatting. First off, it completely ignores any headers in the document you're working with. The headers aren't removed from the document, but they don't appear in the Word Web App, and aren't editable in any fashion. This bothered me a lot, since I had no idea if the header was gone for good until I re-opened the doc in Word on the desktop.
SkyDrive is able to do tables, however, you have no control over cell coloration or borders. For basic work it seems to suffice, but more complex tables require the full version of Word. Word also does not have any semblance of notes, footnote or endnote.
Image manipulation is very basic. You can insert an image and apply a 'style'. The text won't wrap around it, and you can't drag the image to a new location. That's pretty much it.
Sharing is basic, but does function. You can collaborate on a document and see the edits that people make, but like in Excel Web App you can't tell where they are typing.
Overall, I have to say I'm quite disappointed with this attempt by Microsoft for a Word Web App. With the fact that online word processors have been around for a long time, I was expecting a lot more from them. Like with other documents, you can open them through your SkyDrive desktop integration and work with them, but I don't think I'd rely on the Word Web App for day to day use.
Apple iCloud iWork Beta
Despite being in beta, I was pleasantly surprised by iCloud Pages. It imported the document without error, and everything seemed to survive the conversion mostly intact. Pages does have the capability to do headers, and the header on my document imported correctly. However, it does not have any table capability, so I wasn't able to manipulate the header it imported. The header that was visible seemed intact however.
Other basic formatting options were available and worked as advertised. However, the selection of options were very limited. Mostly some text changes like bold and italic, and justification of text. Like the Word Web App, iCloud Pages doesn't do notes, so you would need to manually format these.
Pages on the desktop has been a favorite word processor of mine for a long time, and the iPad version of it is a joy to work with. Especially when working with images alongside your text. Image manipulation works really well on touch screens. Even though this is Beta, iCould Pages already shows many of the same strengths of the desktop and tablet version. I was able to import my image, scale it and place it with ease, and even rotate it, which is something even Google Drive can't do. I was also able to place the image with pixel precision, add some basic effects and even mess with opacity.
Frankly, I was amazed at the image functionality in iCloud Pages. I'm hoping that if they can pull that off, that many other features won't be too far behind. I was very impressed with Apple's offering in this space this time around, and feel like it shows the promise of something greater in the future to make it a real competitor.
This time around Google was still the king of the hill, but second place went to Apple iCould. I found it simply more accessible and functional even in it's un-finished state than the Word Web App. At the end of the day, all three of these tools can help you draft a simple document, or write a letter. If you need more than basic usage however, Google or the desktop is probably your best option.