Web Word Processing Gets Upgrade

Web-based word processors add collaboration and remote access to Microsoft Word, but little else. Often, their makers claim stripping down Word for the web is a selling point — they say complicated functions would be better left to a desktop app. But Boston-based startup Virtual Ubiquity is a little more ambitious with its first product, BuzzWord, built with Adobe’s Flex technology.

In fact, many features of Virtual Ubiquity’s alpha “BuzzWord” product improve on frustrating processes in Word, like dropping in photos, flowing text around embedded items, creating lists, and manipulating tables. With the added benefit of living on the web, this could be a contender. (Screenshots after the turn.)

Virtual Ubiquity got quite a bit of positive feedback after showing off BuzzWord at the private Adobe Engage event yesterday.

The new word processing tool is not likely to be available until fall 2007, but it’s worthy of being on your radar. (Apologies for writing about something you can’t try for yourself just yet.)

Treitman said his team brings the gang back together from “all sorts of ’80s companies” such as Lotus, eRoom, and Interchange. They saw the potential for getting back to stranded DOS word processing projects with the arrival of the web as a platform, as heralded by Tim O’Reilly.

Dismissing AJAX due to the limitations of HTML as far as printing, pagination, and typography go, the group looked at Java and .NET, eventually going out on a limb with an alpha version of Adobe Flex 2.0 released in late 2005. They worked without funding for a year until securing an investment (amount undisclosed) from Adobe’s venture fund last October.

We had seen an early (pre-UI design) demo at an Adobe event in January and have been working since then to get a better look. Virtual Ubiquity CEO Rick Treitman shared some screenshots and details with us today.

In terms of utilizing the web for collaborating on documents, BuzzWord gives granular control over whether contributors can share, make comments, and write to a document. The commenting structure is rather nice — you highlight a piece of text and then affix a virtual sticky note in the margin.

The service will support an offline version through Adobe’s Apollo. I asked about a print window, and Treitman replied, “You’re looking at it.” There’s also virtually unlimited undo as well as full versioning.

Virtual Ubiquity wants to fully release BuzzWord (under a new name) by the fall, in the hopes it can attract students to use the product for term papers when they return to school. A private and then public beta-testing process is set to start in May.