Hands On: Adobe's Buzzword has definite possibilities

As a writer who is really tired of trying to synchronize my documents between three different notebooks, I've been searching for the perfect online word processor. Haven't found it yet -- I keep bouncing back and forth from Google Docs to Zoho Write -- but with Adobe Buzzword, I think we're getting closer.

Actually, Buzzword is part of Acrobat.com, Adobe's new hosted collaboration service, which is currently in public beta. The buzz about Buzzword has been pretty positive, and I've got to say, I'm pretty impressed myself.

Buzzword

With online applications, very often beauty is in the eye of the beholder -- what you think about the product and how well you can use it has a lot to do with whether you're comfortable with the look and can work with the interface. In this case, I was surprised how comfortable I was with Buzzword in a very short time -- it is a bit more like a traditional "word processor" like than Google Docs, but the way its features are organized is a bit less overwhelming than Zoho Write.

For example, Buzzword's features are grouped in categories represented by icons found at the right-hand side of the upper toolbar: Font (the default open toolbar), Paragraph, List, Image, Table, Comment, and Docs (which brings up your list of existing documents). Roll over an icon and it slides over to the left to reveal the name of the category. Click on it, and the entire toolbar slides gracefully out over the length of the window, giving access to its tools.

Other nice touches: For those of us anal enough to need a constant reminder of our word counts, Adobe provides a running total at the bottom right-hand corner, along with the number of "flagged" (i.e. possibly misspelled) words, a history timeline that lets you revert to a previous version, a sliding bar that shows where you are in your document, and a rather strange-looking save icon. And Buzzword actively encourages you to make comments: a tiny floating icon on the right side of your document invites you to fill in a comment box.

Of course, Adobe's advantage here is that it's got the example of its competitors to follow. As a result, many of the features in Buzzword -- such as inserting images and tables -- were planned as part of the application from the beginning rather than shoehorned in later.

On the other hand, there are some features are missing. The one that really surprised me was the fact that you can't tag your documents -- or organize them into folders -- which is a rather awkward omission for a Web-based app.

Buzzword's ability to share documents with others is pretty similar to that of Google and Zoho, with one nice exception: it lets you allow another user to add comments, but not otherwise affect the original document.

The other application included in Acrobat.com, called ConnectNow, is not bad either. In fact, it's pretty good. You can invite up to three people (free) to a collaboration space that includes chat, the ability to share your desktop, a whiteboard, and the ability to use a Webcam or upload a file. It's simple to use, worked very well (although when I shared my desktop with a coworker, she reported that the it looked somewhat blurred at her end), and gave me less problems than more professional meeting-room applications have given in the past.

I don't know whether I'm ready to switch to Buzzword quite yet -- for one thing, it's very much a beta, and for another, I'm not sure how well it's going to work on my Linux-based Asus Eee yet -- but I'm certainly going to keep an eye on it.

Copyright © 2008 IDG Communications, Inc.

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