Wednesday, December 15, 2010

What I need to work completely in the cloud

Windows Live/SkyDrive is nice, but the online version of Word doesn't have all the functionality I need. I need to to track changes and view changes with all the options on the desktop version. It doesn't do that, and it doesn't even read existing tracked changes. (I don't need many of the other functions, however.)

I want to be able to keep/backup my files online, in Dropbox or or SugarSync or SkyDrive, or on an FTP server, or wherever. In fact, I want to be able to use several of those services to store documents. I shouldn't even need to remember where each document is. I want to be able to go to an online text editor (Office Live, Google Docs, Zoho, whatever), and open and edit any file. It should go like this:

Computer: Welcome to [X] text editor!
Me: Open a file. Browse or search to the right one. Click.
Computer: Here's your document! Enjoy!
Me: Read this, add this text, delete that. Track everything! Comment here.
Computer: I got you tracked, no problem.
Me: Done! Save!
Computer: Autosaved while you weren't looking! Thanks for using me!

[The next day, different computer]
Me: One more thing I need to change on that file...
Computer: Welcome to [X] tex--
Me: Yeah yeah, where's that file I edited yesterday?
Computer: Here it is, and here are the changes you made, hilighted in blue (but you can change that if you want to!)
Me: Blue's good. I need to add this one thing... OK, done.
Computer: Excellent!

[Two weeks later, when an author opens the file from our shared folder]
Author: Download file. Open in Word 2003 (srsly.)
Computer: Word 2003. . . . File . . . open . . . changes hilighted in blue.
Author: Happy to be working with software my speed.

[End screenplay.]

For this to happen, my online document editor needs to be connected (through widgets or apps or whatever) to all my storage spaces. That really shouldn't be too hard. But it also needs to track changes like desktop Word does. And Google Docs doesn't do two things I need:

  1. When I (upload and) convert a Word file to Google Docs, it changes all greek letters (in the Symbol font) to squares. Fail!

  2. When I (upload and) convert a Word file to Google Docs, it ignores all the previously tracked changes, and only shows the final product (with comment bubbles). Then when I convert it back (or download it), none of the revision history recorded in Google Docs is retained as Word track changes. Again, it's just the final product (with comment bubbles).

I don't mean to blame Google Docs for this; the problem is more likely in the way Word encodes tracked changes. Nevertheless, I am SOL with cloud editing. Good thing I just bought a MacBook Air (and installed desktop Office) instead of waiting for a Chrome OS notebook.

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