Every desktop user has to create a document one time or another. Even non-PC users have likely used Microsoft Office at least once in their lifetime. MS Office is more ubiquitous and is familiar to more users than MS Windows itself.
It’s only natural for competitors to come up with similar offerings to steal some customers of MS Office. Even a single percent pull would mean tens of millions of dollars to the bottom line. Now, with the advent of Internet, conventional distribution network & physical media are fast becoming irrelevant. Hence we have more than a few companies taking their shot in this space. One among them is Live Documents and today we are going to test their claim of being the “Office for the Internet Generation”!
Live Documents is an online office productivity suite that gives you the powerful productivity features of Microsoft Office coupled with the collaboration and mobility of Google Docs at an irresistible price – free!
Round tripping is the conversion or, in some cases, the repeated conversion back and forth of a document in one format to a document in another format and then back again. Live Documents proudly claims to be the only cloud based office suite that provides “non-lossy roundtripping” for Microsoft Office documents. So in summary, all the formatting you have painstakingly done in the document are retained when imported/exported into Live Documents.
Signing up for the service was mildly irritating. First I was taken to a page with a large badge that said Sign Up and just fields for entering email address & password. When I tried to create a new account in this form, I was told the username & password does not exist. Confused, I tried once again from the home page and got the same error. After a few minutes I tried to click on the Sign Up badge itself and guess what?, there came the sign up page.
Sign up or Login
The big badge looked like an image file and this is the worst combined sign up/login page I have ever encountered. Sign up requires email activation before you can proceed further. To their credit, you have the option to sign up using existing Yahoo, Google or Google Apps accounts.
The desktop like dashboard design is dashing! Shortcuts to create documents, import document from desktop and importing from Google Doc are available on the left side of the pseudo desktop. On the right side we have the alerts, latest buzz and account information including the storage limits.
The launch bar hosts colorful icons for each of the document type – Word, Spreadsheet & Presentations. All the icons here lack a naming scheme making it difficult to identify one from the other.
Creating a Word Document
Clicking on any one of the icons bring up the prompt to name the file and select the file type. Now this ability to select a file type beats the point of three different icons on the launch bar, isn’t it? However, they do definitely add to the eye candy.
Creating a Document
We are now presented with the collaboration screen where we can allow & disallow people to work with us on the document. You have the options to share the document publicly for anyone to see, only to registered users of the web app or to persons you invite via email.
Sharing a Document
Once you choose the collaborators, you have them in a list on the right side pane. This provides enhanced clarity avoiding confusion in the minds of paranoid porcupines like me who always are unsure if the right persons are accessing the information. Good job Live Documents.
Next up is the document properties screen to add a title, description and tags to it.
Once all the formalities are complete, we are taken to the My Documents window, which lists the file we have just created, in addition to previously created documents, if any. I would have preferred to have the document itself to be in front of me instead of going through another unwanted step.
It takes a bit of time to load (Thanks to Flash!) but Live Documents impresses with the feature rich editor. As promised by them in the homepage, the editor is more or less familiar and for those used to Microsoft Office there won’t be a steep learning curve.
I tried to being the review by copy, pasting a section of this article and to my surprise I got a clipboard editor allowing me actually preview in two different formats.
Live Documents has a nice collection fonts to play with and rich formatting options. The design and layout of the options in the right pane is easy to access and is very productive.
The toolbar at the bottom is stocked with features like inserting shapes, permissions, spell check, auto correct and many more. Alerts & notifications from other collaborators can be accessed from here. You can also start a discussion with others too.
Revision history of the entire document can be pulled by using the History icon in the toolbar.
Interestingly, there is a playback mode which I guess will display the changes made step by step visually, but I could not get it to work. But it did show the time and nature of the change on the right pane though.
Live Spreadsheets looks close enough to Microsoft Excel on the desktop. Playing with it for a while, I realized that it has more features than Google Spreadsheets. Standard features like formulas, multiple sheets, look ups, formatting, graphs work as advertised. Comments can be added from the Review section of the toolbar.
If you are editing a cell, you cannot use the arrow keys to move to the other cells but this works fine when you are just reading the spreadsheet. Reports option is a great way to check who accessed the document and at what time complete with their IP address.
Ok! Live Presentations does looks exactly like a clone of Microsoft PowerPoint. Three column layout with toolbars at the top and the bottom are exactly the way they are.
Rotating the Content
I loved the option to have the content, both the title and the text in the body, rotated in any direction I want.
You can choose from the number of templates available and it is also possible to go nuts with one template per slide.
Being a professional blogger, I’ve use Google Docs multiple times a day and often for multiple hours in a stretch. I can vouch that Live Documents has more features than Google Docs and makes everyone at ease when editing the documents. However, am I going to make the switch? No. There are two reasons.
First being able get going in just a few clicks. It takes twice the number of steps to create a document with Live Documents. Second is the use of Flash. Because of Flash, every execution takes a couple of seconds to begin, process and respond.
That being said, Live Documents definitely is a worthy alternative for casual users and small businesses who are looking to save hundreds of dollars from their IT budget. They won’t even notice the difference with Live Documents!