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.