Original URL: http://www.theregister.co.uk/2006/03/10/google_writely_analysis/

Only in a bubble is Google's web WP an Office-killer

'Lightweight, high-velocity and very connected'

By Andrew Orlowski

Posted in Applications, 10th March 2006 20:11 GMT

Analysis At ZDNet, it's Microsoft's "Pearl Harbor"! Forbes screams, "Google's office invasion is on!"

Only it isn't - and we have the founder's word for it.

As we reported yesterday, Google has paid an undisclosed sum for a web-based document editor, Writely. It's a product that's as mature as the company which produced it, Upstartle.

Explaining why she decided to sell the company, whose only product has been in a limited, closed beta for just six months, co-founder Claudia Carpenter wrote -

"We like lava lamps and they're pretty much standard decor at Google."

Moving onto the vision thing, Carpenter explained -

"Writely is like a caterpillar that we hope to make into a beautiful butterfly at Google!"

(No blonde jokes, please.)

A measure of how mature the software is can also be gleaned from this blog post. Writely gained the feature "delete from trash" five weeks ago, a lower priority for the team than "new toolbar". When the ability to remove your own work from a hosted web service is considered less important than cosmetics, you have a fair idea of the software designers' values.

So far, so very "Web 2.0".

That's because of the kind of work people are doing now, which co-founder Sam Schillace explained to NPR recently, is -

"Lightweight, high-velocity and very connected."

Or did he mean the people behind it are lightweight, high-velocity and very connected?

To be fair, Schillace is an experienced developer who created what later became Claris Home Page, before going on to lead teams at Intuit and Macromedia. And Schillace correctly denies what the headlines writers want to believe today - that Writely is a replacement for 'fat client' word processors.

But these are bubble days, and it's discordant to hear a rational explanation - but one comes from Joe Wilcox at Jupiter Research. The Writely feature set is so poor, he points out, that Google bought the software solely to beef up its editing facilities in Gmail and Blogger.

Webbing obscures view

Joe also predicts that Microsoft will never offer a hosted version of Microsoft Office, which is how Office Live is erroneously described, so often.

Citrix, which pioneered multi-user NT, is now offering a consumer hosting service of what it does best, in the shape of GoToMyPC, which is aimed at large enterprises as well as its primary market, SMBs. If we're using hosted services in five years' time, it'll be this, or something very much like it - with a full feature set, native clients at each end, and an internet connection between them.

Of course the last people to be wise to the deficiences of web software are the web evangelists themselves. It hasn't escaped anyone else's notice that even the simplest push technology (RSS) - the most rudimentary format of all - comes in a dozen incompatible formats.

This isn't to say Google doesn't want to host your documents. And make them searchable - and ad-ready. It does. A fortnight ago Google attempted to use its Google Desktop Search software to upload the contents of your LAN to Google servers. A built-in option uploaded a text version of your files where it would be held for 30 days.

And last week a note mistakenly made public illustrated Google's intentions all too clearly - "Store 100% of User Data ... With infinite storage, we can house all user files, including: emails, web history, pictures, bookmarks, etc and make it accessible from anywhere (any device, any platform, etc)".

Cheerleaders for Silicon Valley insist that today's web bubble isn't really a bubble because it's failed to persuade the public at large to part with their money in exchange for junk stocks. But that's only one definition of a bubble. A bubble is when people leave behind rational considerations, and enthusiastically make poor judgements which leave lasting consequences.

Given the inherent properties of the technology set - the network latencies, the angle-bracket incompatibilities, and the downtime, to name just three - the "web-based office" today is as practical a proposition as the Segway-based lifebelt.

Technically illiterate, and pumped up on junk science and pious New Age aphorisms - such s "collective intelligence" - today's "Web 2.0" kids promise to leave behind a legacy of disappointment.

Some bubbles exist entirely between the ears. ®