AjaxWrite wants to take on Microsoft Word

What if there were an alternative for Microsoft Word that would install and open in 6 seconds, read and write Microsoft Word .doc files and run on Macintosh, Microsoft Windows or Linux computers? asks Michael Robertson. And, he says, it should be free so consumers didn’t have to pay $499 for Microsoft Office.

Robertson has just produced such a tool called AjaxWrite, released a couple of days ago. All you need to use it is a browser and an internet connection.

I’ve been taking AjaxWrite for a spin, and it is very nice indeed as this screenshot indicates (click on it for a larger image):

It took me a few seconds to realize that I’m working in a word processor using only a browser interacting with it online, and not in an application launched from my own computer. Its interface certainly look familiar. It’s extremely fast, too – from clicking the link on the AjaxWrite site to beginning to type took less than 5 seconds. Wow! But that’s just a couple of uses – how it would be in the long term with lots of users and the vagaries of the internet is another matter.

Robertson believes AjaxWrite is a significant development:

[…] ajaxWrite is the first Ajax program which looks and operates like a traditional program, complete with menus and toolbars, as users have come to expect. This means users get all the benefits of a familiar PC application interface, with the advantages of a program delivered over the net. This means ajaxWrite is a free web service – it’s always up to date with constant improvements taking place on our servers, behind the scenes.

I’d tend to agree that it is significant for the reasons he mentions. Another one is AjaxWrite’s ability to let you save what you’re writing to a file on your own computer rather than on a remote server. And that file can be opened in Word. I had a few problems with that feature, though (described in my AjaxWrite document, ie, the screenshot). It is beta, don’t forget.

Other server Ajax-based word processors like Writely also offer such a feature. Writely is now owned by Google, incidentally. I’ve tried Writely before and it’s also good. But AjaxWrite undoubtedly has the current lead in familiar look-and-feel as well as speed.

So what about products like AjaxWrite as Word killers?

I just can’t see it, certainly not yet. For many companies, particularly big ones, I don’t believe price will be the primary factor when they decide on productivity apps like word processors. And I can’t imagine someone in an organization who makes decisions about such apps across the enterprise saying, “Ok, we’re switching!” And if you’re someone who works with big companies, as I do, exchanging lots of Office documents with people there, that’s going to influence your own decisions about what apps you use. (Mind you, this is all a very 2006 view.)

In any event, Microsoft certainly isn’t going to just sit there and watch market erosion in an application that’s part of a productivity suite in a business division that accounts for a quarter of their current total revenue. And Office 2007, previously known as Office 12, is coming soon (later than expected, though).

Still, AjaxWrite is very nice indeed, an elegant application that’s at the current leading edge of what developers can do with Ajax. It will undoubtedly have immediate appeal for a lot of people.

Neville Hobson

Social Strategist, Communicator, Writer, and Podcaster with a curiosity for tech and how people use it. Believer in an Internet for everyone. Early adopter (and leaver) and experimenter with social media. Occasional test pilot of shiny new objects. Avid tea drinker.

  1. Shel Holtz, ABC

    There are more basic problems. It doesn’t work. I’ve tried it half a dozen times using Firefox for Mac. I pull down any of the menus other than File and View, and when I try to access the items in the menu, it skips back over the View. It’s a turkey, at least until it’s fixed so it works as advertised.

  2. neville

    I haven’t had any of those issues, Shel. All menus work fine. I can also do things like change fonts, insert tables, change alignments, print the document, save it, etc, all from the menus.

    The only thing I can’t do is insert an image – that menu option is greyed out.

    I’m using Firefox on Windows, so maybe there’s an issue on different platforms.

  3. Shel Holtz, ABC

    I get back to the office on Monday night and will try it on Firefox for Windows there. I ran into the same issues, though, using Safari (the default Mac browser). I wonder if the app was tested on Macs at all.

  4. Joon

    Hi Neville and Shel
    I’ve tested it on a Mac with both Firefox and Safari.
    To me it worked quite well on Firefox.
    But when I ran it on Safari, a warning message popped up saying it was not tested on that browswer.

    I think an important issue concerning any Web-based word processor is not compatibility but privacy or secrecy.

  5. neville

    So it looks like it works more or less ok with Firefox running on Windows. Clearly problems with Firefox for the Mac and Safari isn’t supported.

    I’ve just tried it with Internet Explorer 6 on Windows (a supported browser) – clicking on the ‘launch AjaxWrite’ button only gives a 404 error. Doing the same with Firefox Windows opens up the editor.

    While I wouldn’t call this a turkey, it clearly is nowhere near ready yet for general use.

    I wonder how it works on Linux.

  6. Dennis Howlett

    I’m with Shel on this Neville – turkey. Doesn’t work with Safari at all and is pants in FF on Mac. I can replicate Shel’s problems so it’s a dev issue. And nowhere near as elegant as Writely. If it’s struggling on OSX it’ll usually struggle on ‘NIX. Sorry Ajaxwrite people – already in the trash.

  7. neville

    Hmm, I’d say you and Shel are right in it currently being a turkey.

    While I’ve had a good little experience with AjaxWrite – and do believe tools like this have a lot of potential – I’ve just been reading an interesting commentary by Alex Russell entitled Ajax Wrong which leads me to think that the developer of AjaxWrite has been just a little enthusiastic in his hyperbolic descriptions about his product’s abilities. And read the comments to that post.

    So Microsoft should have no worries about a threat to Word anytime soon.

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