Cloud computing is one of those terms you hear a lot about. Microsoft recently launched a “To the cloud” advertising campaign. Google offers Google Docs, a suite of cloud-based office software. I’m working on contract for a company that makes government software that runs on Salesforce, another cloud-based company. So it’s notable that there’s little discussion about cloud-based authoring software for technical writers.
Cloud computing basically means software than runs on the Internet versus software installed on your computer. Adobe FrameMaker uses the traditional model: you download it from Adobe’s site or insert a DVD into your computer and the software is installed on your hard drive. In contrast, Google Docs is accessible via your web browser instead of installing it. Once you log on, it’s instantaneous. No more waiting for the installation. No more punching in long, complicated serial numbers.
Software like Google Docs is catching on. While it’s currently viewed as a “lite” version of Microsoft Office, it’s improving all the time. Google is also looking at creating an offline model in case you’re working at a location that does not have Internet access.
For technical writers, there’s not a lot of discussion about writing using cloud-based authoring tools. Think about the benefits:
- Your software would be available immediately. No more waits for a large and sometimes slow download from a vendor’s web site. I recently downloaded Adobe’s Technical Communication Suite and the process took more than two hours.
- Your upfront costs are lower. Cloud-based software is frequently priced on a subscription model. So instead of paying $2,000 for Adobe Technical Communication Suite, you would pay a monthly fee to access Adobe’s software on the Internet. I’d readily agree to a monthly fee of say $55 versus $2,000 for a suite of software.
- Your software subscription would ideally provide you with the latest version of the software. Instead of pondering whether I should upgrade to FrameMaker 10, which was just released, my subscription would immediately give me access to the latest features.
- Collaboration could be easier among writers. As the software resides on a remote server, you could probably store your source files there too. If done securely, this could make collaboration easier. Imagine if you needed to share your files with a team in India. No more e-mailing large files.
- Technical reviews could also be done via the cloud. So instead of cranking up Word or Acrobat on a computer, reviewers could read your material by reviewing a document that is available on a web site.
Of course the model isn’t perfect. Performance, for example, could be an issue. But if software vendors can ensure a secure environment and offer decent performance, I think the idea has a lot of merit.