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When I fiddled with Outlook Web Apps earlier this year, I was pleasantly surprised at how far the once-useless browser versions of the ubiquitous office suite had become. As for Google Docs, while we use it here, and while it has exploded in popularity due to its collaborative editing abilities, how much development has gone into it over the last few years?
We heard that Office Web Apps had collaboration, so we gave it a shot. It was a miserable failure. Edits were locked, paragraph by paragraph. Odd error messages appeared. Basically, if you had any friends whatsoever, it was useless. But, as of today, it's fixed. And Microsoft is making us take a serious second-look at their online offering.
Last Year's Test
Here was the play-by-play from last year:
I typed "TEST THIS MOTHA[expletive] OUT!"
My coworker typed "Epic word battle!"
I hit save. So did she.
Neither of us saw the other's edits.
Until she was presented with the following message:
"Sorry. This document can't be saved because some of your changes conflict with changes made by someone else."
She was then presented with a choice: her paragraph edits or mine.
Of course, after she quit, the paragraph locked and was uneditable -- even though she had signed out. I couldn't edit my own paragraph. Damn you, Redmond. Damn you.
Yep. Since then, I haven't touched Office Web Apps. Until today.
This Year's Test
Unfortunately, my fabulous co-worker is in India, so today, I opened up two different browsers, with two different accounts, and collaborated with myself. How did such a lonely encounter turn out?
Edits, with minor lag, appear on both screens. Both users can edit the same word, letter, paragraph, etc. There is no locked-out error messages. It is exactly what you'd expect if you're moving back from Google Docs. And according to Ars Technica, Excel will have cell-by-cell collaboration as well. PowerPoint, on the other hand, can only be edited slide-by-slide.
Time to Switch Back?
It certainly is tempting, isn't it? For those of us who have been using Microsoft Word since the days of Office 95 or earlier, the basic, yet familiar Office Web Apps brings comfort. We get a warm, fuzzy feeling from using the same interface on our desktops and in our web browsers. And we can almost be certain that documents transferred back-and-forth between the web and offline versions will be compatible.
So yes, if your firm is not too entrenched in Google Docs, and especially if you have a hardcore holdout who only uses Microsoft Office, it's worth considering switching back. After all, why use two different interfaces for the same task?
What do you think -- once you've gone Google, you never go back? Will Microsoft pull Google Docs from your cold, dead hands? Join the discussion on Facebook at FindLaw for Legal Professionals.