How many times have we heard the excuses and problems? My printer is out of ink. I couldn’t find my flash drive. The software at home/school are not compatible. All are common problems sharing work between home and school, and word processing is probably the bulk of work that is ferried between the two. Wouldn’t it be great to have a server based word processor that allowed students to work from anywhere with the Internet, plus allow them to save their files to the server?
Some would ask what about Google Docs? Yes, it meets the bill in many ways. It is server based and allows users to save to Google’s servers, and even share their work with other individuals. The problems with Google Docs are two fold–the terms of service and data ownership. To sign up for a Google account one needs to be of legal age to enter into a contract with Google. Furthermore, I don’t think it would be legal for a child under 13 to use Google Docs in the United States because of CIPA. The other concern is that the students’ data and personal information would reside on Google’s servers. If we tell students to use Google or almost any other hosted web application, we are telling them to hand over their data, usage patterns, browsing habits, etc. It is one thing to decide to do that as an adult, and quite another to tell our students to do so.
Adobe’s Buzzword is another option. The hosted variant has the same problems faced with Google Docs. There is a browser based alternative that can be embedded in a website as a widget. Students could use that without entering into an agreement with Adobe, but there is no way to save the document to a server. It must be saved to a local drive. That being said, it offers a great array of formats including test, rtf, pdf, open office, and Word.
Another product, AjaxWord, looked good until I discovered that it only worked with Internet Explorer 5 and 6. Their website was inactive when I began to look into the product and at this writing is not available. Drilling down deeper with a SourceForge Search, I found nothing but abandoned projects.
I’m a bit puzzled by the lack of development in this area. I certainly would be an important application for school and other settings. Hopefully, a reader can point me to something that I have missed. Perhaps in the future Google will release the code for Google Docs. In any case, I will continue search for this potentially “killer” app.