Will Your Mac’s Next Word Processor Be Online and from Adobe?

by Chris Howard Feb 27, 2008

Having never re-installed MS Office after I upgraded to Leopard, I occasionally find myself needing a Word alternative. The answer, I discovered, is online.

As school has now restarted for the year (I’m in Australia if you’re a little confused), and although I’m studying design, I do have a need sometimes to use Word. However, not having it at home, I sought out alternatives that could run the same application at both home and school. Pages is okay, except of course it doesn’t save to the doc format, you must export to it, but more importantly, we don’t have Pages on the Macs at school. Thus the obvious alternative became something web-based.

Several online Word-compatible word processors exist, most notably Google Docs, Zoho, and the king of Word-compatibility, ThinkFree Office.

Google Docs is too limited and has a terrible GUI. Zoho has more functionality and a better interface. ThinkFree’s biggest problems are it’s slow and its full editor is not Safari compatible. But it has so many Word features that no other online word processor has, it’s almost a shoe-in.

But I stumbled across one that’s a balance of all things, and you know, I’m going to bet my house on it. And that is Adobe’s Buzzword.

Like Google Docs and Zoho, and by comparison to ThinkFree, it is limited, although it does have most features users require.

Where Buzzword kills its competitors, though, is the same place Apple does: design. Buzzword is so gorgeous you just want to use it. Nothing out there, not even Apple’s own apps, have as nice a visual design as Buzzword. Click here for an image comparing the GUI of all four.

It must be noted, however, that Adobe did not develop Buzzword and in fact acquired it when it bought Virtual Ubiquity, as detailed in this FAQ. That said, Adobe was a financial backer of Virtual Ubiquity to begin with.

A couple of other important points in that FAQ give a clue to the future of Buzzword.
- Being built on Adobe’s Flex and AIR technologies, an offline version should become available sometime.
- Adobe’s commitment to Buzzword means its feature set will continue to grow, bringing it much closer to ThinkFree.

Current features include headers and footers, multi-level list numbering and bullets, tables, collaboration and commenting, images, word count, and a spell checker. And one particularly great feature of all these online word processors is they keep a revision history. And did I mention it has a gorgeous interface?

What about Apple?
So where does Apple come into all this?

Online applications is certainly a rapidly growing domain, so Apple needs to consider its own entry into the online market. Obviously this would be a nice fit with .Mac. Pages, Numbers, and Keynote are great applications, but will quickly look antique if Apple doesn’t provide an online version of them, even if it is at first with trimmed down versions.

Adobe’s AIR and Flex, which were formally released this week, are probably the development platform Apple should be pursuing, as these provide both an offline and online interface to files.

As hard as it is to imagine, your next word processor may not be from Apple or even Microsoft, but from Adobe. Buzzword is as much a thing of beauty as any Apple product, and is also just as functional. Check it out. Get seduced. This is the one to watch in this space.


  • Is it free?

    Beeblebrox had this to say on Feb 28, 2008 Posts: 2220
  • Buzzword is free. Virtual Ubiquity promised it would always be free - but of course, Adobe now owns it, so who knows what they’ll do.

    Although, I don’t think they’ll charge for it at this stage.

    Once online apps become the norm, then they’ll have to find a way to monetize it. That might mean a free lite version, and a subscription for a full version.

    But certainly for now, it’s free, and has also been a pleasure to use.

    Chris Howard had this to say on Feb 28, 2008 Posts: 1209
  • Why would you want to use an online word processor? You can download NeoOffice for free at http://www.neooffice.org. NeoOffice is a Mac OSX version of Open Office which is a free open source office suite for Unix, Windows, and X11. It was created by Sun Micro Systems and was released to the open source community when Sun stopped its development.

    It has a word processsing program similar to word, a spread sheet program similar to Excel, a drawing program, and a presentation program. The word processor, spread sheet, and presentation program will open up MS office documents, and save to the MS Office formats. It opens and saves even very highly formatted Word documents including tables.

    I am using NeoOffice on a G5 iMac running 10.4 with one gig of Ram. It works well, except for the presentation program which runs a little slowly. Also, it works when I am not connected to the web.

    flyboy had this to say on Feb 28, 2008 Posts: 30
  • Online access means it doesn’t matter what the computer is or what applications are installed, if it has net access then I work on my files.

    If net access is unlikely to be available or I used NeoOffice (or any desktop quite), then I’d have to take all my files with me where ever I went.

    And besides, NeoOffice is a bit on the ugly side, looking like a bad cross between Linux, Windows and OS X.

    Chris Howard had this to say on Feb 29, 2008 Posts: 1209
  • Why would you want to use an online word processor?

    I’ve been working at home and at a production office the past few months.  Google Docs has come in amazingly handy.  I can access it anywhere and share/collaborate with anyone I want.

    So that’s one reason.

    Another is that it is, like Chris says, platform independent.  And it’s free.

    The downside is that it’s slow as hell, but it is oh so convenient.

    Beeblebrox had this to say on Feb 29, 2008 Posts: 2220
  • And besides, NeoOffice is a bit on the ugly side

    It’s also bloat-ware - slow and bulky.  I prefer to pay for Word and Pages and use the free Google Docs for my shared/online/collaboration work.

    I will give Buzzword a try and see if it fits in my workflow.  Thanks for the recommendation, Chris.

    Beeblebrox had this to say on Feb 29, 2008 Posts: 2220
  • It’s also bloat-wareYeah! When you compare 356MB to nothing, well… nothing wins.

    Chris Howard had this to say on Mar 01, 2008 Posts: 1209
  • Buzzword has little buzz. It’s another half baked application that does little to impress. The drop down tips when you hover over the menu functions is confusing (do you click those or just be impressed with the animation). Of course, no folders so it doesn’t match even the basics in organizing documents (like a billion desktops do today). Incredibly, it doesn’t allow you to save files as a PDF and that UPS brown background color is not very desirable. Developers are no doubt busy adding more bells and whistles to catch up so that it can join the dozen other applications that do exactly the same thing.

    axual had this to say on Mar 04, 2008 Posts: 1
  • axual, I don’t know which other dozen apps you’ve seen, but except for Think Free Office, Buzzword doesn’t have to do any catching up.

    When I first looked at it I thought it was feature-light too. But, like Apple apps, good clean design means you don’t get all features in your face at once.

    No folders is an issue, and PDF saving would be useful, but as you say, Adobe is working on adding features.

    BTW You should get your monitor checked too, coz that background is grey, not brown.

    Chris Howard had this to say on Mar 04, 2008 Posts: 1209
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