Review: OffiSync

If you're a Gmail user, you've no doubt seen the link "Open in Google Docs" when friends sent Word, Excel, and PowerPoint files to you in email. And, you've probably tried out Google Docs once or twice when you didn't feel like downloading a file to your computer. It's not pretty, but it makes life a little easier.

OffiSync, a product that brings Google Docs to MS Office, can be described in much the same way. With OffiSync, you can open and save documents from Word, Excel, and PowerPoint to Google Docs. Just like with Google Docs, you can select friends and co-workers to give read and/or edit rights to files, open other files that have been made available to you, and automatically update files in the Google Docs document collaboration system.

Most of us are content to save our documents to our hard drives or local network and send a few email attachments when necessary. But, OffiSync does make life a little easier, and it's free, so let's take a look at what it can offer.

Once you go through a simple downloading process, OffiSync will automatically add a toolbar to your Word/Excel/PowerPoint ribbon with its available features, all of which are the exact same across these three products. (See Figure 1.) With this toolbar, you can:

  • Open files from Google Docs.
  • Save files to Google Docs.
  • Manage your Google Docs organizational/folder structure.
  • Search for files on Google Docs.
  • Manage user rights among collaborators and add/delete new collaborators.
  • Send an email to collaborators notifying them of changes to the document.
  • Jump straight to the cloud version of the article on Google Docs.

See Figure 2 for visuals of some of these features.

Advantages and Uses
During a webcast summarizing OffiSync, the spokesperson says, "Nothing beats Google Docs for sharing and collaborating on documents, presentations, and spreadsheets with friends and co-workers." I thought you might get a kick out of that--guess these guys haven't heard of a tiny little product called SharePoint, huh?

In all seriousness, OffiSync does have some advantages over SharePoint. First off, you can collaborate with people who don't have or don't like Microsoft Office. Yes, Office is ubiquitous, but there are plenty of people out there who don't like it. Second, Google Docs is just plain leaner and easier to use than SharePoint. Managing permissions is cake, and the product's stripped-down nature is its greatest strength and its greatest weakness. Plus, anyone with a Gmail or Google Apps account (nearly everyone, I would hope) automatically has access to Google Docs. Not bad on the whole ubiquity front.

OffiSync is even good for people who hate Google Docs. Have a pesky friend insisting on putting documents on Google Docs and sending you a link? Just pull up the file in Word, edit it to your liking, save it, and shoot him a quick message. He'll never know the difference.

Granted, OffiSync has significant limitations. First and foremost, Google Docs simply isn't a robust document management system. It works great for simple jobs, but when you're talking about investing significant time and effort into developing a system, Google Docs quickly can't stack up. If you want an online document collaboration system for your organization, use SharePoint or one of its look alikes. No big mystery there.

Additionally, OffiSync lacks the wonderful search features that Google Docs has. If you use and love Gmail search (like me), you won't find many surprises in Google Docs. You can pull up a big search box at the top of the window, narrow it to your liking through a variety of classiciations, and let it fly. In OffiSync, you can search by name. Yup, that's it.

And, the last limitation is truly annoying: you can't rename Google Docs files through OffiSync! That's right, even the ones you created. You'd think that all it would take is to pull up a window showing your folder structure, then right click on the file and, uh, what? Delete is your only option. Haven't figured that one out yet.

PROS: Super easy to use; simplifies life for people normally using Microsoft Office and Google Docs; it's free
CONS: The simplicity of Google Docs limits OffiSync as a robust document management and collaboration tool; OffiSync lacks the search features of Google Docs
RATING: 3.5 out of 5
RECOMMENDATION: If you ever use Google Docs, or even if you have a Gmail or Google Apps account, I think OffiSync is worth a download. And if you don't have Gmail, get it.
CONTACT: OffiSync •

What About Office 2010?
Well, what about it? At this point we have little more than rumors about what functionality Office 2010 will offer, among them lofty ideals about enabling greater collaboration and empowering individual user roles for greater efficiency. Sounds great.

I have little doubt that Office 2010 will offer some interesting features similar to what OffiSync is presenting. In fact, in OffiSync's press release the company states that OffiSync takes away the need to migrate to Office 2010 for its new collaboration features. I definitely wouldn't go that far, but still: why wait for online collaboration to be built into Office until mid-2010 when you can have it right now? With 10 minutes, a web browser, and, it's yours. (I should mention, however, that when I talked to an OffiSync rep two days ago, he said the public beta wouldn't be available until Sunday. Going to the site right now, it seems pretty available. So, you might have to wait until Sunday, just so you know.

Will OffiSync sound the death knell for Office 2010? Nope. Will it lead to mass-transition to Google Docs? Nope. Is it a nifty little collaboration product? Absolutely. Go try it out.

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