This is a bit of a different post, it was created collaboratively with Nicholas Rayner (@aussienick) using 4 different online collaboration tools to see if we could find which is the best collaboration tool for document creation. Nicholas is a bit of a Microsoft fan and I’m very much a Google fan so we both came into this process with a bit of our own biases. So we tried two Google products and two Microsoft Products:
- Office Web Apps Online Editing
- Word 2010 with the document saved on Office Web Apps
- Google Docs
- Google Wave (just because of my previous post saying how good Google Wave was now).
In each product we created the document, shared it, and edited the section about the experiences working with that product. Each section has then been copied and pasted into this post.
Here is Nicholas’ version of the post.
Word Web App with the file shared on Skydrive.
How it works
- Create the document from within Office Web Apps (http://office.live.com) or create it in Word and save it to the Web.
- Open with the Word Web App and start typing.
- Slick Word-like interface.
- Nice editing environment.
- A bit fiddly to set up and share the document.
- Not actually live collaboration, you get an error message that there is someone editing the document if you try to open it.
- Limited features of Word – eg no Find and Replace.
- Only works in IE (we tried it in Chrome and it works to edit, but then you don’t have the seamless switch to editing in Word).
- Gave up on it as we are looking for a true collaborative authoring experience. It’s not collaboration, it’s document sharing, which it does well.
Word 2010 with document saved on Skydrive.
How it works
- Create a new document and save it to the web. (There is a save to web option in the save menu).
- Share the document with the other user – you can do this from within office.live.com or when you are saving it from within word.
- Start typing just like any other Office document.
- You will see when the other person comes on line to start editing the document – it pops up at the bottom of the screen.
- You will see the paragraphs that the other person is editing – those paragraphs are then locked to you for editing, and it tells you a nice message that you should wait for the other person to finish editing this paragraph.
- Everytime you save, the other user gets notified that they can refresh that paragraph to see the changes you have made.
- When both people save, the document gets updated in both places.
- Seems to work well after we got the sharing and document open in outlook.
- Cool popup down the bottom of the screen showing who is editing and gives their live messenger status so you can chat to them whilst editing.
- You can see that the other person has locked the paragraph that they are editing.
- NR: Made by Microsoft, everything they make is Awesome! JM: HEY, there will be NO ZEALOTRY HERE!
- Full Word functionality.
- It’s free!
- Familiar Ribbon interface in Browser.
- Requires Office 2010.
- No Live Collaboration from Web Browser.
- Can be slow in creating and accessing files through a Web Browser (probably due to being in Beta).
JM: I’m quite impressed with it. It works well. It does what they say it does. It’s free and it’s quite useable. I would use it again, no questions asked.
NR: Very impressive for a beta of a version 1 product from Microsoft. Really impressed with the Live Collaboration when editing in a client, just like with Office Web Apps for SharePoint but this is FREE and available now at office.live.com!
How it works
- Go to google docs – http://docs.google.com or from the documents link in Gmail.
- Create a new document.
- Share it with another user – either enter an email address or choose from your Contact List.
- They open the document and start typing.
- You will be notified in the top right hand corner that they are editing the document too.
- After a bit you will automatically see the changes the other person has done, right in your document.
- Linked to your Google Account to easily share with contacts and integrate with GMail etc.
- Nice environment to work in for straight text editing, eg for a draft document.
- It won’t tell you where the other person is editing, but it will tell you there are conflicts and will let you copy your text if it won’t save it due to a conflict.
- NR: Formatting is..well..crap.
- JM: Formatting documents in Google docs is difficult as it is missing all the quick and easy shortcut keys for headings, bullets etc.
- NR: Slow in syncing changes between the two users.
- NR: No inline spell checker – JM: It works in Chrome – sort of – it only highlights that the word is misspelt, it won’t actually allow you to correct the spelling by right clicking on the word, so it is kinda annoying, If you want the word suggestion you have to use the spell check feature in the toolbar.
- There is a really really cool chat feature inside the document if you are doing a Google Spreadsheet or Presentation, but it is completely missing when doing a document. This feature is sorely missing from this collaboration experience.
- UPDATE 14/7/10: Not sure if we completely missed this, or it’s new today, but the chat panel and an indicator showing where the other user is typing is now showing up in Google Docs. It makes it a much better collaborative editing environment.
NR: Google Docs is good for basic document authoring and editing, the formatting has some issues, but overall it is a good product. I’d like to see the chat feature from the spreadsheet and presentation tools added to the Document authoring tool.
JM: I love Google Docs for quickly whipping up a new document, but for anything that requires formatting or printing, I will always go to back to Word or Excel.
How it works
- Open up Google Wave.
- Create a New Wave.
- Add a person to collaborate with.
- Start Typing.
- When the other person starts typing, you will see exactly where they are typing and what they are typing letter by letter.
- The name user who is typing is shown on the other user’s screen right where they are typing and you see the changes they make to the wave letter by letter.
- Great collaborative editing experience.
- Simple and easy to start and collaborate.
- Can export to Google Docs when done by using the Ferry extension.
- As well as typing the document, you can have a discussion below or even within the – eg chatting over the particular wording of one sentence.
- Good Spell Check in both Chrome and Firefox.
- Can get a little crowded and mixed up if you are typing in the same sentence or the same word as the other person.
- Formatting still an issue – similar formatting issues to Google Docs and no keyboard shortcuts for headings and bullets.
- Does not work in IE (but will in IE9).
- JM: I actually like this better than google docs for simple text editing and thinking up an idea – but I would still go back to Word for final editing.
- NR: I too prefer this over Google Docs. This would be great for small project teams and a group of people collaborating over a range of different things. I’ll definitely be using Google Wave going forward!
Well I was kind of surprised at what a good experience using Word 2010 was in a collaborative editing experience. If I was working on a proper document where the end result was a PDF or printed document, I would not hesitate to use Word for collaboration.
Even though I love Google Docs, after using Word, I wish it was a little better and had the visual indicator of where people are working. The chat window, which works great in a Google spreadsheet, is also sorely missing in Google Docs. So right now, for quick collaborative editing I would go with Wave, it is such a good collaborative experience for quick drafts or documents that will continue to exist in Wave.
Well done to Microsoft for producing such a great collaborative editing experience, and particularly that it is free and easy enough for anyone with Office 2010 and a live account to access. I recommend you give Word 2010 and / or Google Wave a go the next time you need to work together with one or more people on a document.