After going premium and suffering some community fragmentation, the OpenOffice.org open source office suite is being taken in a new directionby a company named Ulteo. A brainchild of Gael Duval, founder of Mandriva Linux, Ulteo's mission is to serve as a platform forputting applications onto the web. Using this approach, Ulteo has released a public betaof Online OpenOffice.org, which quite literallyputs OpenOffice.org inside a browser.
There are of course some real advantages to Ulteo's offering, not the least of which is overcoming platform-specific issues, but like any major desktop software application that gets stuffed into a browser, Online OpenOffice.org has its drawbacks. Let's take a look at the pros and cons of the latest productivity suite to go online.
Let's start with the good: all the major components of OpenOffice.org are present. The unassuming sign-in page pictured below allows you to chose which app to work with and set a couple of custom preferences. Your chosen app will open in a pop-up window. Though the download time is noticeably longer than competing web-based office apps like Google Docs and Zoho, it appears that the entire app is presented to the user, right down to every last featureincluded inOpenOffice.org 2.3. Formatting, preferences, fonts, default templates, right-click contextual menus—it's all there.
Like many examples of theSoftware as a Service (SaaS) paradigm—after all,this isdesktop software served up in a Java VNC client for the Web—working in the suite is a mixed blessing. Users who demand the multitude of features that desktop office suites are known for will likely feel right at home, though the suite can be noticeably laggy.
For example, some mundane tasks like selecting a full line of text in Impress, the suite's PowerPoint-like presentation app, can take just a split second longer than a desktop app. Sometimes. This kind of lag is sporadic, though, and users who are looking for a package like this may bewilling to deal with it.
With this beta offering of a desktop suite, however, it's clear that Ulteo's initial public milestone was simply to get OpenOffice.org working in a web browser. Users seeking the collaborative ordocument-sharing features of competitors like Google Docs or even Microsoft's Office Live Workspace should keep on walking. While Online OpenOffice.org offers 1GB of online storage space for all your documents, nary a sharing or collaborative feature is in sight.
Still, Online OpenOffice.org certainly does have a niche it can fill. Due to its desktop-cum-web nature, it easily offers the most features of any online office suite. Users who are unhappy with Google Docs' K.I.S.S. approach and are unwilling to pay Microsoft's hefty prices for Office might have a good chance at looking past Online OpenOffice.org's shortcomings. As OpenOffice.org's GUI matures—and if Ulteo's implementation keeps in step—Online OpenOffice.org has a good chance of evolving into a feature-rich, easy to use, web-based office suite.
Ulteo clarified that Online OpenOffice.org does in fact have a collaboration feature that allows users to invite others to collaborate on documents. It only requires an e-mail address to invite other users, and guests can be limited to read-only access. This certainly makes Online OpenOffice.org a more appealing option for those who want an abundance of editing options, as well as collaboration abilities.