Webreakstuff blog

Why the “online office” won’t work for now

Everyone seems to be talking about online office solutions – and how apps like Google Docs and Spreadsheets seem to be going in the right direction. While it is easy to agree that progress is being made, it is hard to ignore some of the problems with the current solutions.

A new mental model

Bringing the desktop experience to the web is a tricky problem. People aren’t used to the web browser as capable of doing dragging and dropping, file management, rich editing text (at a level they would expect from an office solution), or correct printing. In fact, people are used to the simplicity of the point and click, and expect that behavior, and little more, inside the browser.

Changing this mentality is the complex part of the equation. In very recent years, the web has seen such fast evolution that the technology to bring an online office solution to reality actually exists. Improving the experience, however, should be the main focus.

People are accustomed to failure

There’s something about the web that you can’t really explain, but that I’m sure you feel. Like most people, you’re probably used to seeing the web “fail”. Websites go down, pages move places, links are broken, popup windows and ads everywhere are annoying. Being completely honest, the web as an “experience”, well… it kinda sucks.

Thats why only a slight percentage of people understand the concept of rich online experiences – not because everybody else is dumb, but because they’re not afraid of experimenting. Try telling someone used to computers but who doesn’t understand the concept of “Web 2.0″ to drag and drop something to a shopping cart. When you see the “huh?” face, you’ll know what I mean. This is the kind of reaction we need to get rid of.

It’s an exciting time to be a designer

The role of the designer as a “manufacturer” of experiences and user advocate is now (more than ever) of uttermost importance. It is up to the designer to figure out new metaphors for online interactions. Taking the “online office” problem as an example, designers need to come up with systems that allow for real-time preview of documents. Or file management. Or saving, sharing, printing. Designers need to get thinking about how to interconnect these experience bits together and form real solutions.

But I digress

While coming up with solutions for online collaboration is a big part of the puzzle to move people’s work to the web, the key to the future “online office” is not porting desktop metaphors to the browser but coming up with new, meaningful solutions to the problems at hand. Once we get that out of the way, feel free to release any “docs and spreadsheets” solution. Until then, design real experiences.

Ending notes: Here at Webreakstuff, we’re working on tackling these problems on a daily basis. If your company is launching web-based products and you need our product design and user experience expertise to guide your process, get in touch.

  1. Peter Giger says: November 3, 20068:10 am

    My mind agrees with you, but my body don’t – I’m quite surprised to say. I find myself constantly drawn to writely/google docs instead of MS Office/Open Office. The Web 2.0 functionality somehow beats my urge to drag and drop. The only thing I really crave for is a decent reference manager like Endnote.

  2. Andy C says: November 3, 20063:20 pm

    Yep, it’s not going to usurp things yet. It will though in the long run. Applications will find offline modes that don’t require constant server babysitting. I can tell you most office places I step in don’t like those office licenses nor the headaches their computers are giving them. Once an opportunity stabilizes I think we’ll see a good bleed off. Note not total market loss, just another fractionation. We’re now into an age of rare market collapse (sic. long-tail).

    Doesn’t mean M$ might do it themselves too is another thought, recapturing some of that share.

    Peter, I’m with you. Then again we might be people who understand getting the work done (ie: execute) is better than wasted time digging in feature sets. I’ve got two individuals in mind in the office that just MUST HAVE some things in the M$ software armada but when they get it, they either never use it, or just yak shave all day. Real work can get done in a slew of these online vehicles and much of the glitz, glam, or control is really superficial to just getting the damn job done.


  3. [...] WeBreakStuff begs to differ, however. [...]

  4. Ross Hill says: November 8, 200612:52 am

    I totally agree, that Server Error in ‘/’ makes me shudder.

  5. [...] En effet, selon Webreakstuff, le “online office” ne “marche” pas pour l’instant. Bien que j’aille été emballé par ce genre d’applications depuis leur début et que je les utilise fréquemment, je suis d’avis pour dire qu’elles ne seront pas massivement adoptées dans le contexte actuel. [...]

  6. Gordon says: November 9, 20064:02 pm

    Good article. Thanks. While you are definitely right about the user experience, I think there is also another critical factor that will prevent online office suits to work for anyone but private users.

    IMHO the main issue with public online office suites is the trust a company has to put in the provider of the service. It is a matter of control. Since office documents can contain sensitive data, they are assets that should be kept at servers under the control of the company rather than an worldwide accessible online service.

    Editing or, even worse, storing them online circumvents your admins security measures to keep your data integrity intact. You have to trust the online service to keep your files virusfree, versioned, backupped, rights managed and since its an online service – available.

    I can already see the headlines “Service xy hacked. Thousand of documents stolen.”, “Service XY down. Hundreds of companys cut off their data” or “Service XY employee sold company data to competitors”. Sure, this can happen to your company without using an online office suite, but the impact is much bigger once everyone starts to give control to one single or a few selected online services.

  7. Jordan Willms says: November 9, 20067:16 pm

    I think what we will see is a classic low market disruptional approach from the online office. It will start with personal users, and small businesses (1-5 people) and keep gradually gaining more market share as technology improves.

    Also – imagine if you will, the ability for you to Docs and Spreadsheets (while offline) and still be able to use the app. This offline use is something I believe is in the pipes for these various office suite apps.


  8. Jonas says: November 12, 20061:01 pm

    Good post! It will take time until the webapps completely replace the installed ones.. I couldn’t more than agree. I also have an article on the topic which you might want to checkout:

  9. Bjorn Jensen says: November 23, 20062:56 pm

    The computer will sooner or later become the web it’s just a matter of time. As for know, apps. like zoho writer and others are free and available for other than just smart rich college kids, and others who feel that it’s good with virtual no competition, and sub products made to make the rich richer.
    We at Orca feels it’s time to throw down the gauntlet and therefore challenge the regimes that runs the computer business at the moment. You can’t take them on they’re already too big for that. First step is making everything that counts available via a so called web top. Check us out and see that the web is the future: http://www.orcadesktop.com

    Bjørn Jensen Journalist/PR

    Team Orca


  10. Micheal says: September 7, 20072:23 pm

    The post is infact very good as the author has tried to cover the general problems which every one comes across as i ve tried a couple of them myself i dont find it difficult to manage them, Right now i m using a eDesk Online office which i believe is the better one cos it gives you the ” look and feel ” of the normal desktop which allows you to navigate through the Webtop without ne problems of getting lost within, I recommend all the people to give it a try…… :)

  11. Corner Desk Guy says: February 27, 20082:05 am

    Agreed, I much prefer doing in the current way, sometimes change isn’t always better.

  12. Kyoto corner desk says: October 28, 20104:29 pm

    That’s right, people are accustomed to failure. Nice post and keep posting. Thanks

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