The Google Word Processor

Writely Screenshot

One of the hottest topics around the web this last week has been the acquisition of Writely by Google.
So, you may ask, what’s the big deal about that?

Allow me to take a few minutes to give some background on this situation.

On 4th October last year, Sun Microsystems announced a “strategic relationship” with Google. This announcement whipped up a whole storm of rumors, predictions and hopes that a “Google Office” will soon be launched – spelling certain doom to Microsft Office.

The idea behind the “Google Office” was something like this:

  • It would be 100% based on the web browser, so that any computer with an internet connection and a web browser (which I believe would refer to more than 99% of all the personal computers in the world) could run it.
  • It would also sport a sleek, elegant and user-friendly interface, as can be seen in the Google-branded product line.
  • Files would be securely stored in a Google-run server, and accessible from anywhere in the world – users would no longer need to remember to make a copy of their documents when going someplace else (such as a holiday or business trip).
  • All content of all the files ever created by the user would be searchable using the proven Google engine, and users would never again have to “lose” a file by forgetting where they put it

Sounds cool? A vast majority of tech-inclined bloggers and netizen thought so too.

Weeks passed by with no significant progress or official comment on the “Google Office”, and Google announced on 31st October plans to fund the development of Open Office.

In the following months of silence, most cynics and even ex-enthusiasts started to regard the whole “Google Office” affair as one wild rumor, especially since the “strategic relationship” only states an agreement in the bundling of Java with Google Toolbar , and vice versa.

Then, with the sudden announcement of the Writely acquisition on 9th March, rumors are flying high again.

Ok, so what is this Writely thing?

Basically, it is a very, very close implementation of the Google Office (or at least the word processing part of it). Here’s how they describe it:

What does Writely do?

Writely allows you to edit documents online with whomever you choose, and then publish and blog them online.

What exactly can I do with it?

  • Upload Word documents, OpenOffice, RTF, HTML or text (or create documents from scratch).
  • Use our simple WYSIWYG editor to format your documents, spell-check them, etc.
  • Invite others to share your documents (by e-mail address).
  • Edit documents online with whomever you choose.
  • View your documents’ revision history and roll back to any version.
  • Publish documents online to the world, or to just who you choose.
  • Download documents to your desktop as Word, OpenOffice, RTF, PDF, HTML or zip (compressed).
  • Post your documents to your blog.

As soon as news of this announcement broke out, Writely has closed off new registrations while the system is “moved to Google’s software architecture”, and is offering a waiting list instead.

Does this mean signify the first of many components from which the Google Office will eventually emerge? I strongly believe so.

Am I excited? You bet! :)

P.S I had the fortune of snapping up a Writely account before they had been acquired, and I’m currently writing this post on Writely. Let’s see how well their “direct blog posting” feature works…

Update: It works extremely well! In fact, it works almost perfectly. The only gripe I have is that WordPress’s “blockquote” feature is not supported, but that’s minor.


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