Posts Tagged ‘ZOHO writer’

Online Document Creation and Sharing

March 12, 2008

There are many programs such as

Google docs
MS Office Live
ZOHO writer
or for that matter even wiki programs such as Wetpaint

those allow one to use browser accessible editor programs to create documents that can be saved in many popular document formats or they can be shared online for collaboration in completing projects. These programs do not have all the features that one will find in a full blown word processor such MS Word but they provide easy interfaces to facilitate group collaboration and instant sharing of information with fine grained access control. The old Word processor do not have this. With the 20/80 rule where 20 percent features in a program are used 80 percent of the time these programs provide enough formatting capabilities to create web based documents that can be saved in many different popular formats.

Some of you probably are wondering why I included wiki in the same mix as the others because wikis markup to create documents is different than the html markup that other programs are using. That is true but most of the user will use the rich text editor and they will never actually code in plain html or in wiki markup. For them it is not important how the data is internally stored. They just want to use the features of automatic versioning of the documents with sharing and collaboration capabilities. On a side note the computer programmers are incredibly creative people. If there are five ways to mark up an entry they will make sure that they use all of them just to distinguish themselves from others. Otherwise how else you would explain the existence of so many document formats such as rtf, html, pdf, wiki mark up and latex. I know there are historical reasons why they are here and each one of them offers some unique capability but the html and wiki markup are really not that much different. For example html markup fo a paragraph <p>xxx</p> or .p xxx wiki markup only differs in the amount of typing one does otherwise on the screen they are both rendered the same. The wiki markup creator must have hated typing brackets “<>” so he used “.” instead.

Now the graphic designers who have background in printing and want precise location of elements on a page is a different story. Most of their techniques are waste of time for documents that will be viewed on the screen because computer monitor screens do not have enough resolution to be pixel perfect. Compare 90-130 dpi (dot per inch) resolution to the minimum printed page resolution of 1400dpi. There is no comparison and the poor typographers and graphics designers who come from the print background cry when their dot perfect design is horribly mangled on the computer screen or the color fiends who use color maps to display precise colors for his/her design finds out that computer display monitors display the same image differently for variety of the reasons. So what is it that makes us give up our beautifully color printed books to the electronic documents that are of poor quality when compared with the original print media books? It is the ease of creation, use, sharing and collaboration. The original intent of creating printed books was to share information but it was one way street that information flow was between author to its passive readers a hierarchical network between author and the readers where the author sat at the top of the hierarchy pyramid. The electronic documents facilitate creation of flat network where every body can contribute if they desire to do so.

As always MS has its tiered strategy to compete in this space. They have MS Office live a free offering then they their enterprise office suite that does include one of my favorite program formerly known as Groove, a peer-to-peer based group collaboration tool that came from the same people who gave us Lotus notes. The program uses p2p so no need to maintain a large server every node is a client and a server. It uses a advance replication and presence so that the user can work off line and when they come online every other users workspace gets the copy. No need to notify every group member for the new changes the program automatically kees track of all this and keeps all the users in the loop. It was/is a program that was/is way ahead of other programs in this category with an extensible framework. Being part of the University I have access to the entire suite for free but what about the people I teach and I collaborate with. It was bad enough that I have to force them to download and install Groove client and pay some modest amount of $0-$50-$160 depending upon what capability we needed for the group but now they have to buy the whole office suite to get the same capability. Thanks to Ray Ozzie for selling us out who supported Groove when it was an unknown obscure slow and a buggy program in its version 1.0

That is why I am extremely cynical of the startups who when they need you will go out of the way to do things for you but once they made it at the back of their beta testers they quickly forget how they get there. Watch out facebook they will probably be bought out at some point by Microsoft or IBM. My take on this is that never support a company 100 percent and support only the product and companies that support you.

Talking of startup here is this company that claims to be the future of web. I was excited because they CEO was using the right words like “Semantic Web” etc so I made a blog entry and asked them if I can test their software. Guess what no reply. I guess they really have nothing to show except a sweet story for the venture capitalist.

This is the second entry I wrote using ZOHO write. As I said before it has better capabilities than Google docs but definitely needs some improvement. It needs auto sensing of url. It needs automatic spell check believe or not I post the article on wordpress and then use the auto sensing feature for spell check within rich text editor provided by wordpress. SOHO writer that claims to be an authoring tool does not have this most basic feature that helps an author but has gazillion icons to format the text. Also sometimes when I want to hyper link some text it has bizarre behavior of losing the text. Other then that It looks good.

Link rot, web archiving, ZOHO writer

March 12, 2008

This entry is about how link rot affects information resources on the worldwide web. Back in the early nineties when worldwide web suddenly gained traction on all the other more elegant attempts such as e-mail, NNTP based newsgroups, ftp and gopher to create and share information through networked computers some of us educators also got excited about the potential of using Web as a tool to improve teaching process. We created a web resource for teaching and learning Finite Element Method known as FEMUR original url http://femur.wpi.edu . It will not work now because Dr. Joseph Rencis moved to University of Arkansas so the whole resource moved with him at http://comp.uark.edu/~jjrencis/femur/
The resource is there but not as visible on google as it used to be when it was located at WPI.

Also, some of the links in the original femur resources were hard coded with server address http://femur.wpi.edu so when it moved to a different server some of the url simply do not work. The example is the unreachable stiffness learning applet located at the url http://tinyurl.com/3972u4

To get to this applet one has to first know the answer that they have to type in 3 for all the text area boxes and click ok that should take them to the learning applet but it it will not because of the link rot. It used to work but after the movement of the femur resource the url changed and one has to use the url to get to it.

Why am I writing this? This is to show that web developers needs to pay attention to information archiving. Web 1.0 was great. It helped in bringing obscure computer networking and information sharing to the non-computer savvy masses but it also created problems such as these.

Some of these type of problem can actually be avoided. Like this one could have been avoided if the web authors have used the relative web address instead of the full server address. It is a simple thing to do but you see thousand and thousand of web pages containing hard coded url that will not work after some time. Luckily some of these pages are archived at http://www.archive.org through Way back Machine or some of them are sitting in the Google cache.

Also, by avoiding the use of the frames altogether or using it more wisely as they are used in facebook frameworok. Frames can help in creating a fixed familiar interface where web pages load in a well defined area that may be considered as stage such as in the facebook pages where the top and left side of the screen always belongs to the user menu and every other information loads in the area defined by the frame. This way once somebody is lost after going through several urls they can always go back to familiar menu from the top or the left.

Frames have a nasty habit of hiding the url of the resource they are loading in the frame area. If someone wants to book mark the page he/she will not be able to get back to the same page becasue the frame is hiding the url of the resource frame was displaying. Luckily facebook creates a unique url for every page so even if the page is displayed within frame it can be book marked with any book mark utility for future reference. In this regards Facebook does stand out over its competition. There are so many these small innovations within facebook framework those at first appear almost trivial but hava a major impact on the usability and user experience with the program. It is the user experience in using the program determines if a program will succeed or fail.

This blog entry was written by using ZOHO writer from Zoho.com. I was impressed by the story of the company owner. The program is competing in the same space as Google docs. It has more features when it comes to editing. It even allows to post directly to the blog on wordpress.com. It could improve the text linking by auto sensing a url. I will hold my judgement and see how well it will compete with google docs, MS live etc. Knowing MS strategy where they will always give you more initially than the competition but once the user is hooked they start charging dearly. It simply the stragey to hook the customer than boil him like a frog slowly. They gave out MS DOS for free. They actively encouraged piracy when they wanted the customer base. They bundled office suite for free with Windows to kill the Lotus office suite. Once Word perfect was gone they started charging for MS Word. IE is still free because there is Firefox and Opera. The day these two will fold MS will charge $100 for IE. It is just good business practice I think people should learn from them how to kill the competition and wipe it out completely. It has always been either bury the competition by providing the product for free or buy the competition.

Actually MS business practices need a whole new post still it will not be complete so it is better to leave this topic alone.