Over on RWW this morning, Sarah posted asking the question, “how important is offline access?”. She states in her post that;
by focusing on an offline web, one has to wonder if this is really progress: if we wanted an offline word processor, well…don’t we already have several of those available already? Shouldn’t a product like Google Docs be more focused on what makes them unique in the office suite space instead?
I can’t help but think Sarah is missing the point here. The entire rationale for SaaS delivered office productivity apps to allow for the sort of value ads that only this form of delivery allows, things like data mashups ad real time collaborative ability.
Sarah’s contention that buy offering offline functonality vendors are somehow trying to reinvent desktop software is patently absurd. What they are trying to do is to ensure that the excellent functionality they already deliver isn’t constrained by short term connectivity outages.
The fact is that Sarah writes from Tampa, Florida. I’m fairly sure she enjoys both internet speed and reliability in the top percentile of the global norm – but there’s the rub, Google and Zoho are attempting to create a viable and credible product that works for all users – not just the hyper-connected ones. To do so they rightly realise that they need to allow for inevitable outages, they also need to make their offerings sufficiently light to work with low bandwidth users.
So yes Sarah, Offline access is, and will continue to be for the forseeable future, important.
I agree. In fact, there are three things that making Google Docs offline should be able to bring to the table eventually:
1) The obvious is access to your documents while offline. While some may say “why?” the real reason is “because sometimes, you are just offline… and who wants to use one tool while online and another tool while offline? I want to use just one tool and I want this tool to offer both offline and online functionality and for it to appear seamless. This is what bringing Google Docs offline will allow.
2) The less obvious is intermittent network problems. Sometimes, at home, my cable modem starts having issues and I am forced to unplug it and plug it back in. Sometimes, Comcast has issues on their end and I am without Internet for a few minutes. In all of these instances, if I rely heavily on Google Docs (which I do,) I have to wait until the problem subsides before I have access to my documents again. By implementing offline capabilities, I won’t have to worry about this… at most, I might simply be limited by certain features (like the inability to search these documents for a few minutes,) but it won’t be a productivity killer.
3) And even less obvious is performance. With a proper implementation of Google Gears, an ONLINE application can still use the OFFLINE capabilities even when the user is STILL ONLINE. Think of this like a browser cache. Browser’s cache files on the local machine and access the local cache EVEN WHEN the user is perfectly online. The reason is performance. Likewise, when opening a document or switching sheets in a spreadsheet, instead of constantly pulling the same data from the servers over and over, the application can make a simple check to see if the local copy is the same version as the “cloud” copy. If so, it can simply pull this data from the local cache, making the whole experience out to be much faster.
So, really, anyone who thinks that this whole “offline” thing isn’t necessary truly doesn’t understand the implications of the technology.