Need an upside to this fiscal meltdown? Smaller businesses now have the perfect excuse to move their operations, or at least some of them, online.
Web-based office automation packages are cheap. They work. And considering the almost ridiculous range of choices -- everybody from Google (GOOG) - Get Report to Sun Microsystems (JAVA) to Zoho.com offer powerful ways to enter and edit text -- small enterprises looking to save money as the economy slows simply have no choice but to at least try a few.
Earlier this year, graphic software powerhouse
entered the online word-processing fray with its own online word tool called Buzzword. I reviewed the package then -- favorably, I might add -- and decided to bring the software into the heart of my own digital content creation business.
For the last six months or so we have edited dozens of stories and blog items per week with Buzzword. In that time, Adobe has made a series of quiet, but important, upgrades. And our daily use of the product has revealed some interesting issues that have made me rethink my earlier enthusiasm for this product.
Here is what we've learned.
What You Get
Make no mistake: Buzzword is the word-processing, document-handling real deal. For absolutely no upfront cost, you get a fully functional, easy-to-use word processor that edits, stores, marks up and files your documents. And with a hefty 5 GB of storage per account, assuming you do mostly text and light graphics, as long as you arrange for a back storage solution, say, every few months, there is essentially no limits in what you can store.
Buzzword is no homemade, cheapie product. It has the entire design and business muscle of Adobe behind it. So it's not going anywhere. And the design and user interface for this software is off the hook: Elegant fonts, excellent graphics tools and slick spellcheckers are my favorites among many rich layout and design features.
Listen up, digital content creators: Buzzword has a terrific export option that enables dead-on, clean extraction of text and graphics. Got a hungry blog to feed? Buzzword's export-to-text feature has literally never coughed up even a bad spacing in our testing. Just try working that miracle using
Word or Google Apps.
Adobe also deserves credit for some neat programming sleights of hand here. Buzzword is based on Adobe's Web language Flash, so all document processing is handled locally on your desktop. Under the right conditions, text appears in real time on the page. And the system can work on even very slow Web connections, and collaboration is well thought out and easy to use.
In many ways, Buzzword is one of the best word processors you can buy. Period.
What You Don't Get
As fabulous as Adobe Buzzword is, some prickly problems have emerged. Adobe justifies the expense of Buzzword as basically a community-building tool. Essentially, advertising. So the company has quietly built some significant restrictions into the product. As I said, the system is based on Flash technology, which is cool and all, but it has dubious integration with other Web tools like HTML.
Therefore any Web-based third-party automation-package-based common Web tools will face a challenge managing Buzzword. Search engines -- both Web-based and desktop-oriented -- as well as meta tools that skim content and organize information for your business, RSS feeds, and others all struggle to work with Buzzword.
And managing documents can be a pain. Adobe has developed an elegant, flexible interface for tracking available files: You can search your content by who created it, what day it was created or other factors.
Yes, it's lovely, but it can be confusing and directories become cluttered fast. And file creators have to be extremely careful to keep their naming conventions straight or your material simply can't be found. I cannot tell you the number of documents that were not seen by the required parties because names were wrong and collaboration invitations not properly executed.
All of us here found Buzzword's Flash-based architecture computer resource heavy. Under the wrong conditions, when our PCs were multitasking on a render or background process, the speed that text appeared on the screen slowed to a crawl. I found I kept a traditional desktop word processor like Microsoft or OpenOffice on all our test machines. And I used them about half the time.
Essentially, Buzzword is a word-processing island on the larger Internet universe. Companies will find it difficult to integrate into their larger systems. For smaller companies doing simple word processing, the value of Buzzword -- the thing is free for crying out loud -- solidly trumps the issues.
But for larger operations, or companies doing complex digital manipulations, Buzzword could rapidly become the most expensive free software ever. Navigating this software takes valuable time and effort, which saps resources and eventually morale.
Clearly, Buzzword can be effective. It's a good tool. Just make sure you give it a stiff tryout in your operation to make sure you don't find yourself stuck behind one of its many limits. It is a lot like the island paradise of TV's "Lost." It's lush, sunny and has fabulous views. But it has this strange desire to keep its inhabitants there forever.
And that quickly becomes sort of a bore.
Jonathan Blum is an independent technology writer and analyst living in Westchester, N.Y. He has written for The Associated Press and Popular Science and appeared on FoxNews and The WB.