As market conditions deteriorate, economists tell us that investment, and therefore innovation, should slow.
But technologies here on planet small biz are doing anything but. We are experiencing a techno-golden age: Computer makers like
and, yes, even
, are offering remarkable value. Take the Samsung NC-10. This is a perfectly business-ready small notebook computer, part of a growing line of machines known as a Netbooks, that list for a ridiculously cheap $460.
And mainstream business-application makers continue to add sophisticated features that make these cheap PCs ever more powerful.
Apps, for example, now supports a robust
as part of an entry-level business package that is free. Who needs
Small companies are also turning on the developmental software jets. One operation in particular that has caught my attention is Swedish-based Nordic River Software. This week the company rolled out a nicely done beta that the operations claims is the world's first so-called parallel word processor. It is called
($49 per year per user). I have spent the last few days testing it ahead of the release.
If your business is struggling with managing document revisions or tracking various forms of text-based information, TextFlow is most definitely worth a demo.
What You Get
TextFlow provides a unique, and dead easy, way to not only work together but to manage the revisions on your business documents.
The battle over creating and collaborating on documents has traditionally had clear battle lines. One on hand was traditional PC-based software like
Word or WordPerfect from
. Documents are created and edited locally on a computer. Versions are emailed between colleagues, who make their own revisions, and then emailed back. Yes, collaboration is possible. But it can be awkward. But this so-called "on-premises" software is very feature-rich, very stable and also very expensive, at least, to start.
On the other hand, we have Web-based word processors. Brands like Google Apps, Zoho and many, many others, post data directly out on a computer connected to the Web. Users are, in effect, logged into that computer and edit the same document at the same time. Versions are saved and presented near instantaneously. These "off-premises" solutions, though, offer the near-magical ability to back up content instantly and are cheaper, at least to start, but tend to have fewer features.
TextFlow takes a completely different position in these battle lines. It labels both these approaches as serial word processors. In other words, revisions are made in a linear order. Instead, TextFlow attempts to make word processing parallel and more simultaneous. It uses
new developmental language AIR to create a tool that melds with online collaborative tools with traditional feature-rich desktop editing. It is a neat concept.
Installation and setup could not be easier. Simply download the beta
. Setup on my test Dell took only a few minutes. And after the launch, I was presented with a very basic window with limited commands: Open, close, save, export and a few others. Nowhere is the roadside bomb of menus and options that is Microsoft Word or the twee oppressive world-in-white that is Google Apps.
Instead, TextFlow offers a very basic and profound proposition: simply drag and drop the different versions of the same document -- the originals first, the revisions next. Then TextFlow uses its remote servers to render a very specific
of all the different riffs of the same document: Smaller revisions and spelling changes are kept in the same line and given contrasting colors. Larger, more complex revisions are broken out in side-by-side paragraphs. And almost instantly, there on the virtual page, is an easy-to-read, side-by-side breakdown of how a document has been modified by different users.
All folks need to do is either accept or deny each change; and the finished document is rendered up in real time. Changes can be undone, studied, tinkered with or revised again, pretty much as any online collaborative document would be.
What You Don't Get
TextFlow does not offer a real, live collaborative environment in a traditional sense.
Yes, TextFlow is a spectacular software achievement. And a very interesting idea. But I found I still had to track versions in a traditional directory on my desktop. And I definitely missed the brainstorming and other collaborative business features found in, say, Zoho or a similar online processor.
Also, the software, while very easy to use, is not easy to learn to use. It's a big intellectual step. And you can expect the cranky and technophobes in your shop to be resistant. So, again, you are faced with carving out yet more resources to get the service deployed. The company says in the final version there will be live document storage on its servers, so time will tell where this issue goes. But at $50 per person per year, this is a relatively pricey way to go for a potentially limited return.
TextFlow is impressive stuff. But it is not for every small business. If you do not manage a lot of digital information or tons of word processing, this tool is not worth your time. Or money. But if you manage a lot of documents that need revising, say as a law firm, analyst shop or similar knowledge-working business, TextFlow can be compelling.
TextFlow is certainly something rare: a new idea in word processing. And for the right business, it could be a powerful tool.
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.