Web-hosted productivity suites like Google Docs and Microsoft Office 365 are making major inroads in a market formerly dominated by desktop applications. They provide convenient online tools that work cross-platform for users who just need basic word processing or spreadsheets.
But these suites have one common disadvantage: They run on servers you don't have any direct control over, which means they can be changed -- or shut off -- at any time.
Open-Xchange's OX App Suite suggests another approach: It's a Web-based office application system that runs on your own Linux server. It isn't available in a publicly hosted version akin to Google Docs -- at least, not yet -- so some heavy lifting is required.
The suite features email (with optional connectivity to Microsoft Exchange), calendaring, task management and a file repository. It has also just added a new word processor named OX Text, which, according to the company, was developed by members of the original OpenOffice development team. The word processor will eventually be joined by spreadsheet and presentation apps.
I took a look at OX Text to see how it stands up against the likes of Google Docs and Office 365. Currently, OX Text's feature set is quite minimal -- fine for composing basic correspondence but lagging far behind both what Google and Microsoft are offering. It amounts to "WordPad for the Web," although given time it could become a contender.
A different look
Log into OX App Suite and you're presented first with the Portal, a customizable tile-format overview of your inbox, appointments, tasks, upcoming birthdays and other widgets. One of the widgets, "My latest files," opens a selectable list of the last documents you worked on.
Another way to enter the app is to look along the top of the portal, where there are tabs for the other components of the suite, such as the file organizer, the email app, the address book and the calendar. Click on Files, and you get access to all the various files you've worked with.
In either case, if you click on a particular file, a pop-up menu shows you a large thumbnail of the document, together with the chance to open, edit, download or delete the file. Choose Edit, and you're in OX Text.
Unlike Office 365, OX Text's on-screen layout doesn't strive to resemble a local application. Instead of menus or a ribbon interface, there are three strips of icons -- left, top and right.
The left-hand strip contains quick links to in-document search, printing and document downloading tools. The right-hand pane, which is collapsible, contains formatting and editing tools. If you collapse the right-hand pane, a few commonly used editing tools -- bold, italic, undo/redo -- appear as buttons that hover at the top right. Finally, the tab strip along the top lets you switch between multiple open documents.
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