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Why Taking Web Apps Offline Is Hard

Adobe still hasn’t released an offline version of its Web word processor, Buzzword.
April 29, 2009

I first learned about Adobe’s Web word processor, Buzzword, when writing about the Adobe Integrated Runtime (AIR), which is designed to let programmers use Web technologies to build desktop applications that can run both online and off. Buzzword (which is still in beta) was a favorite example of the executives I interviewed, and it was obvious why AIR would be useful for a Web word processor. So I went home and got a Buzzword account, excited about having access to my documents from any machine or operating system, and about being able to use the system even while on the plane.

I’ve been using Buzzword for more than a year now (I’m writing this post with it), and there’s still no offline mode. Buzzword has a fabulous user interface that’s kept me hooked, but I’ve been active–possibly annoying–about giving feedback to the developers, and asking them for offline support once every few months. Recently, I got a chance to talk with Buzzword founder Rick Treitman, who is currently an “entrepreneur-in-residence” with Adobe, and he explained the holdup to me.

Buzzword, like most Web applications, is designed with plenty of collaboration tools. While making it work with AIR for a single user is easy to do, Treitman says, collaboration adds significant obstacles. For example, say that I work on a document offline while my writing partner works online. When I go back online, what happens to the document? Treitman says that the Buzzword team is working to make this situation resolve itself as automatically as possible, but that it requires significant work on the software’s back end.

The two big reasons to use a Web word processor are ubiquitous access–which I want to include offline access–and easy collaboration. I’m looking forward to seeing how the Buzzword team resolves the way that the two interfere with each other.

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