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Industry News: Software as a Service, coming to you

July 6, 2013

The content of this section has been a little different lately. I’ve been traveling and last week’s Barnes & Noble announcement seemed to merit an entire article. This week, there’s not a lot new going on. Penguin and Random House announced their merger, which has been well-reported for months. Paula Deen’s book hit number one on Amazon, then her contract was cancelled. And they’ve delayed announcement of the 50 Shades cast for the inevitable movie (I’m hoping for Gilbert Gottfried and Kathy Bates in the leads–a comedy). Overall, it’s a holiday week–a slow week in a slower time of year, so we’ll take another ‘feature article’ approach this week.

Earlier this year, Microsoft announced licensing terms that would have pushed the vast majority of Office users to subscribe to Word, rather than installing it on their computer of choice. After a good deal of angst and cursing-of-Bill-Gates, they backed down–for this version. If you want, you can purchase Microsoft Office 2013 the old-fashioned way. You can send your money, get a code, and download the software, just like your parents and their parents have done through these many, uhh, months.

When Microsoft reversed its decision, the entire world let out a collective sigh because the world wasn’t going to change, after all.

Except it is changing, and it will continue to change. Within a decade, probably less, whatever word-processing software you use won’t be on your computer. It will be in “the cloud”. That model is coming, and it’s already here.  And it’s not entirely a bad thing.

A major part of the session I will be presenting on tools this year, will be a discussion of cloud-based services such as DropBox, iCloud, Google Docs, and SkyDrive. They are in the cloud, which is to say they’re places you can store your files out in the Internet someplace. The advantages to that approach are overwhelming. If your computer crashes, you don’t lose your manuscript. You can access your work from anyplace you have a computer and you can even transcend platforms (or instance, I store my work-in-progress on DropBox and work on it in Word on my laptop and Pages on my iPad).

Google Docs is a little different because it contains its own word processor. I haven’t used it very much, but my daughter the college student has and she doesn’t like it.

But having a feature-rich word processor in the cloud is just a matter of putting the features there. Microsoft has already done it. You can subscribe to Microsoft Office 365 and access your software–and your settings–from as many as five computers and five mobile devices. And while you have to be online to set up and manage your software, you can use it offline. In other words, you don’t have to pay your airline twelve billion dollars for Wifi to use Word on an airplane.

In exchange for this service, you pay $100 a year. If you pay full list for Office Home and Student (Word, Excel, PowerPoint, and OneNote), you start losing money on the subscription service after 14 months. Even if I didn’t get the $20 deal on using Microsoft software through work, I’d probably opt for the old-fashioned approach.

But software as a service is coming to you. And it doesn’t have to cost much. As previously indicated Google Docs included a built-in word processor that allows you to write your document online and collaborate. You can also work with it offline if you use Chrome as your browser.

Oh, and it’s free. (If you have a Chromebook–a laptop based on the Google Chrome browser and a Linux operating system, you’re probably already using it–and you can use it offline.)

If you’re looking for a way to inexpensively work on documents, software as a service shouldn’t be scary–and you’ll be ahead of the crowd.

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