Desktop Suites


There was a time and day when I thought that I knew exactly where I wanted to go with a desktop productivity suite.  There are so many choices.  I had purchased Sprint from Borland as a word processor, VisiCalc as a spreadsheet, and never had a need for a database or presentation package so I was all set. 

Both Sprint and VisiCalc appealed strongly to the programmer in me as you could make either of them do virtually anything that you wanted them to do.  Had I reached utopia?

If the truth be known, my word processor and spreadsheet needs haven’t really gained appreciably since I used the products.  In fact, I wrote and published an article in 80Micro about how to create a markbook for recording grades using VisiCalc.  What else could a teacher need a spreadsheet for?

But, time marches on and these products were dropped in favour of more powerful GUI applications that could do far more tricks on a computer that anyone could humanly want. 

Probably the first fully integrated package that I used seriously was the Ontario Ministry of Education licensed Clarisworks application.  This was such an interesting concept with all of the components working with each other, eliminating the need to load another application to do particular tasks.

From there, I migrated to the Ministry licensed WordPerfect Suites and they did a fine job for me.  There came a time when I bought a copy of Microsoft Office and then the Ministry licensed StarOffice and I switched again.  All along the road with these switches comes the inevitable discussion about “industry standards” and the need to be compatible.  You inevitably end up with the discussion of standards; OpenOffice proposes the OpenDocument standard but the Office format keeps getting thrown in your face as the de-facto standard.  After all, everyone knows about .doc as a standard.

Until the latest incarnation and the .docx format is introduced.

How much is enough?  Do we buy yet another product just to generate a file with a certain extension and now proclaim that to be the new industry standard?  A lot of folks are.  They’re proclaiming the advantages of using ribbons for productivity instead of menus.

As I blogged recently, we seem to be wavering in technology abilities balancing power and performance against portability.  With the new Netbook machine available, we have to consider just what it is that we need to run on these machines to do our tasks.  Do we have enough “umph” to get the job done?

The power of the Netbook lies in its ability to connect to the network and therein lies another option that may well be the final? place for office suites.  Who cares what the standard is when you use an online service like Google Docs or Zoho Tools.  Imagine a product with just enough power to get the job done, with a hosted service and its free.  Standards?  Who needs any stinking standards.  As long as the document is hosted, they can change and upgrade the power of the product all they want.  I just want my documents when I need them.

In a Web 2.0 world, it gets even better with the ability to subscribe other folks to your documents and allow them to edit along with you.  Now, we’re talking about the real power of the network.

As Chair of the RCAC Symposium Committee, we have members all over SouthWestern Ontario and we get the job done without a lot of distance travelling meetings.  We use the power of the network to get the job done.  Today, for example, I put together our timeline of the event with the names of those who have volunteered to do certain roles.  All of the key moments are placed online with times so that we know exactly how to pull this event off without a hitch.  If committee members don’t agree with my view, they can of course edit it so that we have everyone’s perspective and input to make the day the best that it can be.

Had I reached utopia years ago when I bought those products.  Heck, I wasn’t even close.  I was only buying software.  It’s the network of colleagues and the enabler to bring everyone to the document that gives us the best of the best.

The message is to never rest – keep on top of things – never underestimate the ability of technology and now the power of network input to put you over the top.

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links for 2008-11-26