03.Advantages and disadvantages
Online office programs are not just for netbooks or owners of more powerful laptops. Anyone with a PC can sign up, log in and start creating, editing, saving and sharing text documents, spreadsheets, presentations, calendars and much more. Many of the programs are free, and can be used on almost any computer that can access the net via a web browser. For example, you might have a PC at work and at home and maybe a laptop to carry around. You can fire up your web browser on any of these computers and use exactly the same program and documents, saving your changes centrally in the cloud.
And you don’t have to be alone. One of the big benefits of online office programs is collaboration. You can share documents via the internet, with multiple users editing and annotating, in some cases simultaneously. You can control access to particular users and track all changes made by your virtual workgroup, which can be spread across the office, the country or around the globe.
Online suites are starting to offer big competition for that desktop productivity Goliath, Microsoft Office, giving you alternative word processing, spreadsheet and presentation programs with similar features and even a familiar look and feel. They also offer file format compatibility, which means you can create, edit and save documents interchangeably with Microsoft Office. Or that’s the theory, anyway. In practice, complex documents may not retain all of their formatting and features. For simple documents however, it’s usually not a problem.
Another advantage of computing in the cloud is that you don’t have to worry about backing up your work. It’s done by online file servers, and because online office suites work through a web browser, they’re fully cross-platform. You have the flexibility of being able to use them from any Windows, Mac or Linux computer with a net connection.
Cloud computing has a few limitations though:
- Some programs can be fairly basic in their feature set, compared to their desktop equivalents.
- Complex documents may lose some formatting.
- For services without offline editing capability you need a working internet connection to be able to do anything at all.
- Even with broadband, it’s slower than accessing programs and data on your local hard drive.
Depending on the complexity of your work, the first issue may not even be a problem for you. Most people use relatively few of the features of Microsoft Office, and online office programs will generally have most of the main features that you need.
Online goes offline
To get around the slow speed of the net and the need for a live internet connection while working, some of the major online office suites are now offering offline access. This means you keep a copy of your documents on your local hard drive, working on them with local versions of the office programs, then when you connect to the internet all changes and new documents are uploaded to your data store in the cloud.
This offline/online access can make cloud computing workable even when away from net access, such as when travelling. Keep working on your documents in the train, plane or car then synchronise everything with your next net connection.