Edit Documents Fast Online

One software company is well on its way to rolling out an online competitor to Microsoft Word.
Someday, all of our applications will live on the Web. We'll carry around a USB drive as small as a sweet pea. It'll store all of our data, allowing us to use any monitor and keyboard, wherever we happen to be.

Some people aren't waiting for someday, of course. They're developing applications that take advantage of high-speed Internet access right now.

One such company is well on its way to completing an online competitor to the Microsoft Word document editing application. The product is called InetWord, and it just might be the way you edit documents in the not-too-distant future. Oh, and by the way -- at present, it's free.

Editing On The Fly

InetWord is an example of software development that combines the processing power of an individual PC with the plentiful storage and worldwide access available on the Internet.

The application, being developed by Forward Center Inc. of Kirkland, Wash., seeks to duplicate the functionality of Microsoft Word while surpassing it in the area of Web publishing. Some of the design features of the development team are:

Document editing. There are many Web services that allow you to edit documents online. InetWord, however, strives to present documents in a familar Word-like environment, complete with buttons, toolbars, and keyboard shortcuts. Editing is quick and responsive, due to AJAX, a programming technique also used by Google Maps to make fast scrolling of complex geographical information possible.

Styling. InetWord strives to offer the user all the control over document styles that MS Word does. That includes the formatting of fonts and paragraphs using fine-grained measurements such as points, user-customized paragraph styles, tables with varied cell borders, spell checking, and more.

Web publishing. Forward Center especially focuses on what it calls "one-click publish to Web." A single document can be edited collaboratively by several different authorized users, after which it can then be quickly posted to a Web page.

A list of the design features of InetWord is published at Forward Center's site. Forward Center President Tom Snyder said in an interview that the product is currently "in a demonstration phase." While the development continues, the company is allowing visitors to set up free accounts and use the editor at no charge.

Taking Advantage Of IE And Firefox

InetWord's editing features, and some of the aspects of its Web site, currently work only in Microsoft's Internet Explorer browser. Snyder says that isn't because InetWord uses any ActiveX technology, which would pose security risks. Instead, InetWord uses the so-called Document Object Model (DOM). This technology, which is the subject of several working groups of the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C), allows individual computers to interact with a document that may be physically stored anywhere.

InetWord is being programmed using DOM Level 1, plus extensions that are specific to Internet Explorer and Mozilla-based browsers, such as Firefox. The extensions required by the two different browser platforms, however, are quite different. The coding for Internet Explorer is nearly finished, Snyder says, whereas the coding for Firefox won't be completed until early 2006.

The company hasn't put out a press release or formally announced its product to date. I'm taking this opportunity to pre-announce the product, because I think it's the wave of the future.

A Business Model That Allows Free Users

Forward Center has no plan to ever charge end users for access to InetWord, says Snyder. Instead, the company plans to license the remote-editing capabilities to one or more Internet service providers or Web hosting companies. These firms would offer it to their end users, either for a separate fee or free with a basic account. Web hosts might find it more convenient to provide InetWord to users than recommending they buy Microsoft FrontPage or other client-based editors.

Asked whether Forward Center would license InetWord to a big ISP, such as, say, AOL, Snyder replied, "Yep, they're definitely on the blackboard."

InetWord will compete with such other online editing solutions as eWebEditPro ($600 for 10 users), Writely (free in beta), and SubEthaEdit ($35 per user for commercial use).

Next week, I'll look at these and other alternatives for rich online editing.

InetWord's home page is at InetWord.com. (Its main content window currently requires Internet Explorer.)

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