The list of companies offering free, Web-based word processors just got longer. Today, Adobe is entering the Webtop game (watch out, Microsoft Office) with its announcement that it will purchase Boston-based startup Virtual Ubiquity, the company behind Buzzword. Terms were not disclosed, but Adobe had previously invested in the startup through its $100 million venture fund. Adobe’s new browser-based word processor (Buzzword is currently in open beta) joins a crowded field that already includes Google Docs, Zoho Writer, Glide Write, ajaxWrite, ThinkFree, and . . . well, you get the picture.
But all that competition is not deterring Adobe . “The current Web 2.0 apps leave a lot to be desired,” sniffs Adobe product manager Erik Larson. “They do not live up to desktop apps.” Neither yet does Buzzword. But it does take several new steps toward closing that gap. Built on Adobe’s Flex development platform (which takes advantage of the ubiquitous Flash player), it’s fonts and typography easily match the fidelity of Microsoft Word. (Altough you don’t get as wide a choice of fonts right now in the beta, Adobe should be able to fix that). An Adobe AIR version that will operate offline is also in the works for sometime next year. (Google Docs will have similar offline capabilities when it is integrated with Google Gears, while Zoho has already done so).
“This is not an HTML editor,” points out Rick Treitman, Virtual Ubiquity’s CEO and a former exec at Lotus. “It is the first paginating editor that lives on the web. It is laying out the page and figuring out line breaks.” Buzzword also lets you insert tables and images, see every historical revision of a document, and share it with others. You can invite others to read it, to leave comments, or to edit the document. And, yes, it does have spell-check.
Buzzword’s drawbacks are that it is still slower than a full-fledged desktop application (not so much when typing, but when doing things like cutting and pasting); it doesn’t support hyperlinks (unconscionable for a Web-based app, though this is on Treitman’s to-do list); and there is no easy way to export a document to a blog or other Web publishing system other than cut-and-paste.
Soon, though, Buzzword will be integrated with another Adobe service launched in limited beta today called Adobe Share. This is a file-sharing app that is geared towards document sharing. You get one gigabyte of storage free and you can embed a Flash preview of your documents into any Web page, from which anyone can download and print a PDF (think Scribd or DocStoc on steroids). Even Microsoft is getting in on the game, accepting sign-ups today to an upcoming beta of an online document-sharing service called Office Live Workspace.
The worlds of the desktop and the Web are becoming more interchangeable every day. Now, if only Adobe could figure out how to turn those documents into actual Web pages, we wouldn’t have to mess with workarounds like embedded documents.