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cloud_vs_desktopThe debate begins! Well, the debate may not even matter in a few years as the Internet and computing evolves but for today it’s still here.  What debate am I referring to?  Which application suite is best: the desktop applications (one that is actually installed on a local machine ie. your computer) OR web-based applications (one that is accessible via an Internet browser and over the Internet)?

This article is going to major on the word processor (ie. Microsoft WordOpenOffice, Google Docs, etc.).  When it comes to word processors, there is no lack in choices, even just in the free category (check out 6 Free Office Suites That Are NOT Microsoft 6 Free Office Suites That Are NOT Microsoft 6 Free Office Suites That Are NOT Microsoft Read More and 5 Great Alternatives To Google Docs You Should Consider 5 Great Alternatives to Google Docs You Should Consider 5 Great Alternatives to Google Docs You Should Consider Google Docs has its shortcomings. Maybe you want to avoid Google for privacy concerns. Or you might need different features. We found five excellent alternatives and one of them will work for you. Read More )!

In this article, I would like to go through some of the advantages and disadvantages of both the desktop AND the web-based word processor.

Feel free to “fill in the blanks” in the comments at the end and join in the poll!

What are the advantages to a desktop Word Processor app?

  1. They do not need the Internet. For some people, this is a very important point.  Even in today’s day and age the Internet is not EVERYWHERE you go.  For example, I live in Upstate New York where almost everyone at least has access to the Internet.  When I go up to camp, in the “sticks”, the only Internet service option they had was dial-up.  There are also the so many countries where Internet connectivity is not very developed.  My father-in-law is a missionary in Haiti with nothing but a dial-up connection.  Does no Internet connection equal no word processor?  Not good!


  2. The user has more control when the program goes “kaput.” For instance, if Google Docs is down for a bit, everything is on hold. If a program is local on your machine, you can actually do something about it.
  3. There are many more features available in most desktop-based word processors. Right now, at least, web-based applications, like word processors, are still being perfected and OpenOffice and Microsoft Office still have more features than, say, Google Docs.


  4. Performance MAY even be a factor. Some say that offline, desktop word processors perform better, making working much more fluent.

What are the advantages to a web-based Word Processor app?


  1. You can access your documents from any computer with an Internet connection and a web browser. For many people this eliminates the need to carry around their laptop or maybe even storage devices.

  2. You can easily collaborate with a document written with a web-based word processor. Many applications allow you to invite collaborators to make changes to your documents.  This has been a life-saver for my as bus captain at my church because I keep the list of bus stops and contacts in a private Google Document and the secretary can access the list at any time to update it and I can print it out on Saturday or Sunday when I need it.  The collaborative uses are virtually endless!


  3. Organization can be a bit easier with most web-based word processors. If all of your documents are located in one place, imagine how much easier life would be!  For instance, you may have several different folders on several different storage devices or even computers.  Image not having to worry about trying to remember where that all-important school paper went!  Google Docs stores your documents in chronological order but also at the same time allows you to organize them into folders.

There are a few things to remember though.  Many people use both for different purposes because of unique strengths and weaknesses.  It may also be a good idea to back up your online documents, just in case something funny happens!

Cast Your Vote

OK, now it’s time for YOU to weigh in on this topic. What did I miss? What is your preference: desktop-based OR web-based applications?  Which application do you use more often?


  1. kumar
    June 11, 2010 at 12:13 pm

    my choice is google docs

  2. AJ
    March 23, 2010 at 4:06 pm

    A desktop application with dropbox installed that saves my writing works online automatically across 3 different computers that I use. This way you can use your favorite office application and retrieve the file online anytime, edit it, and resave it. I use AbiWord for basic stuff, BookWrite for book creation, and Celtx for screenplays, Using OpenOffice on occasion. Each have an export feature to save your work in various formats. This still gives you the online document backup option with Google Docs if you choose.

    Automatic file sync is the best answer for me and it works on multiple pcs at a time to the same account. Try it. You'll love it.

  3. Fran Doino
    February 26, 2010 at 8:16 am

    What makes everyone think that online wordprocessing will always be free??

  4. william Huerta
    February 2, 2010 at 6:12 pm

    Have none at this time

  5. KKBS1
    January 25, 2010 at 2:58 am

    I find that Google Docs just looks awful 90% of the time if you're printing it or exporting as a PDF, how it looks in the browser never matches how it actually looks, which is fairly crucial.

    Not tried any other online doc apps, but I've tried Open Office and MS Office, given I work in healthcare and everyone has MS Office I tend to use it more than anything else. Although I've got nothing against Open Office itself

    • Tim Lenahan
      January 25, 2010 at 5:22 am

      I agree, it's very crucial to have the document you have printed look exactly like what's on the screen!

  6. Alan
    January 22, 2010 at 4:01 pm

    I have been using Zoho for about a year now. I use Zoho, Zoho Docs, and Zoho CRM. As my business is small I am well covered with the free edition.

    Zoho allows me to easily track emails and documents with my comments. I also like the security of an online program, though I do back up key documents on drop box.

    If I do not need to use MS than hooray!

  7. Bill
    January 22, 2010 at 8:08 am

    I use both, I usually work on MS Word (office) but upload to Google docs to have anywhere access (and backup) to the finished product. Every once in a while I work in GDocs but am not happy with the lack of features for final quality - although for personal notes or short letters its fine.

    I also use a flash drive but am wondering about it's usefulness as I use GDocs more often! 98% of the time I have internet access.

  8. mchlbk
    January 19, 2010 at 9:28 am

    I've tried Zoho a few times, mainly because I don't want to install unnecessary apps on my computers. I always end up installing OpenOffice in the end though, it just feels better.

    I keep my documents sync'd with Dropbox an SpiderOak to be able to access them from whereever I need them.

    • Tim Lenahan
      January 19, 2010 at 11:02 am

      What do you like about SpiderOak when it comes to handling your document needs? Just curious.

    • Janos
      January 22, 2010 at 10:09 am

      gSpace is just as good for making your docs accessible from anywhere if yiou are a Firefox user.

  9. poch
    January 19, 2010 at 3:13 am

    I use both but prefer offline when I don't like to be distracted or when I detect malware.

  10. zaine_ridling
    January 18, 2010 at 6:35 pm

    Great article, Tim! I like the Hannah Montana "Best of Both Worlds" web approach with a local version installed. Another thing I like about being web-based is that I can manage my files more efficiently, archiving them to USB/DVD more often than I would with terabyte-sized drives. An absolute must, however, is the use of a open document format, such as ODF. Anything else is disqualified for my business use.

    • Tim Lenahan
      January 19, 2010 at 8:40 am

      Hannah Montana, huh? Interesting analogy!

  11. David Rogers
    January 18, 2010 at 10:33 am

    I voted for online word processors because I find myself using online apps more and more. My needs are simple: drafting a blog, writing a book, taking notes, doing Spanish homework. (My Spanish teacher lives in another city: we Skype face to face and homework is done via shared Google documents, which we can annotate and correct in realtime during the sessions.) Google Docs serves well. It´s simple, fast, sharable, emailable, even offlineable. All docs (as you say in your article) can be found in one place, and because of Google´s stature, I´m assured that my online storage won´t evaporate. There may be even better online alternatives but the storage security with Google is a big factor. And the future augurs well: online applications will only improve over time, like good wine. And the price is right.

  12. Martyn
    January 18, 2010 at 7:48 am

    I use neither. I use plain text and format it using either ReStructured Text or Almost Free Text (AFT). It makes it portable, it allows me to concentrate on what I am writing rather than whatever feature attracts my eye at the time. I also object to paying MS for a bloated piece of software of which 80% of that software will not be used ever by the majority of it's users. If I am need of something a little more professional without having to to go the effort of learning LaTex as mentioned by someone else, I use LOUT. All free, all flexible and allow me to work on any machine I am currently using without having to worry about whether I have a word processor installed or not!

    Plain text is the future and it's ascii! (or unicode...)

  13. d31b0y
    January 18, 2010 at 4:56 am

    Nice little guide and interesting results on the poll.

    You left your email address visible in one of the screenshots though :)

    • Tim Lenahan
      January 18, 2010 at 8:58 am

      Hey, thanks. I noticed it once it was too late. I don't really use that one anyway:)

  14. libeco
    January 18, 2010 at 2:31 am

    I do believe there's a fututre for cloud-based apps, but not just yet. First the reliability has to be improved, the features have to be better than the offlin version and perhaps the most important: the way they behave has to improve!

    I recently tried GlideOS, but it was so unusable that even the 30GB free storage won't make me switch. I'm on a laptop anyway! Like somebody mentioned before Dropbox is the best solution. Why? Simply because you place your files in a directory and Dropbox does the rest for you, no need to worry and no real change to your workflow. As a comparison, I uploaded a file in GlideOS and now, two days later still don't know how I can access it from my laptop, it's just not showing up!

    Oh, before I forget, I'm using Word 2007. Tried OpenOffice years ago, didn't like it and stuck with MS Office.

  15. Janne
    January 18, 2010 at 12:50 am

    I have to go for a combination of both. I want the features available in the desktop version together with the possibilities of accessing my documents from any computer as well as the occasional collaborations. Today, I'm using Dropbox to store my documents online and to be able to access them from anywhere. This also enables me to make certain documents accessible to friends/colleagues, and making it possible to collaborate.

    Of course, the latter could just as easily be done by emailing the damn thing! ;)

  16. Adrian
    January 18, 2010 at 12:12 am

    Wow! MSOffice forever.

  17. Teresa
    January 17, 2010 at 8:43 pm

    As a teacher librarian, I have found that the online version of word processing is great for students. Online essays and research papers cannot be lost or "my printer did not work" or "my computer at home is broken". Unfortunately most of the students at my school do not have computers and/or Internet access at home, much less the expensive WORD software. Online access helps students avoid software version issues too. We have put in place longer library and computer lab hours at my school to make it possible for all students to access a computer and the Internet.

  18. Plain Text
    January 17, 2010 at 8:42 pm

    Word processor? Hmph! Keep your piece of bloat. Real men use (La)TeX.

  19. Bryant
    January 17, 2010 at 7:32 pm

    Well, considering the new Microsoft Office 2010 is going to come with 20GB of free, online web storage as well as the ability to edit documents for free online... the mixture of both comes increasingly into play.

    For the rest of us stuck in the here and now, I like to use an offline processor (Word 2010 beta) with Dropbox. I have access to all my documents any where there's internet. If need be, I can edit one in Google Docs. Unfortunately, I don't enjoy using Docs. The formatting abilities are severely lacking, as well as features overall. I'm comfortable with Office, and that's where I'll stay.

    • Tim Lenahan
      January 17, 2010 at 8:04 pm

      When it comes to Microsoft, the question to bear in mind is what is the price tag? If the features are worth the price, then that's good.

      Google Docs seems to be getting a lot of mention... what about some of the other offerings? Anyone have opinions on those?

  20. aoi_sora9x
    January 17, 2010 at 5:23 pm

    This one is a no-brainer. Offline, of course. I think the ability to access ur files everywhere is just overrated. What's the point of it when thumbdrives nowadays are so cheap? Just pay some bucks for a 1gb thumbdrive and you have every single documents you need inside. It's way better than using an online application that is unreliable and less feature-rich than the offline counterparts. And if you think storage on the cloud is reliable, well, recall those incidents with the Sidekick server.

    And hey, OpenOffice is free!

    • Chris
      January 17, 2010 at 5:46 pm

      "What's the point of it when thumbdrives nowadays are so cheap?" But then you have to remember to carry it around with you. And what if the computer you are using is locked down and doesn't allow USB sticks to be mounted?

      "And hey, OpenOffice is free!" Yep, but I have to install it to use it. What if the computer I'm using doesn't have an office suite installed and doesn't allow me to install software?

      I use both offline and online documents, but the offline ones are mainly larger spreadsheets which are too unmanageable in Google Apps. Online docs aren't for everyone, but I need access to certain documents from a number of different computers and locations and it makes it so much easier than dealing with memory sticks, offline software etc.

      • Chris
        January 17, 2010 at 7:35 pm

        One other thing I should add, I normally only use very basic word processor formatting because most of the documents I create contain reference information and aren't the sorts of things you'd be presenting to customers etc. If I needed more complex formatting etc then the current state of online office suites would be completely unsuitable.

      • aoi_sora9x
        January 17, 2010 at 9:49 pm

        Oh god, how big is a thumbdrive anyway? And during my course of using computers, i haven't ever seen a single computer that doesnt allow me to run portable applications from my thumbdrive, let alone mounting it.

        And If the computer you are using doesn't allow you to install software, you can always install portable software to your thumbdrive. I think online apps are really overrated because they SEEM to make you HIP. Oh god, on the cloud computing... you suck.

        • Tim Lenahan
          January 17, 2010 at 11:16 pm

          I too like using thumb drives, HOWEVER, many office environments have the policy that no one is allowed to "install or use" software not authorized by IT and sometimes they have policies against installing and using hardware unauthorized and they put thumb drives into that category.

          When it is not permissible to use a thumb drive, a web-based solution may be acceptable.

          Plz keep insulting remarks to yourself. Just looking for friendly debate:)

      • Chris
        January 17, 2010 at 10:51 pm

        I probably shouldn't dignify your comment with a response given your immature "you suck" comment but anyway... Running portable applications from a USB stick is an excellent solution. However it doesn't work for everyone (including me) just as cloud computing doesn't work for everyone.

        I don't use cloud computing because it is "hip" but because it is convenient for me. You obviously have no understand of how locked down some environments can be and how impossible it can be in such environments to even mount a USB stick, let alone run a .exe from them.

        PS: my apologies if this response appears a couple of times. It didn't seem to post correctly the first time.

        • aoi_sora9x
          January 18, 2010 at 5:56 am

          LOL. i think you misread me. I didn't say that you suck, i said cloud computing sucks. And arent' you being immature now that you talk to me like i'm a disgraced being? lol. I just think cloud computing is really overrated. And i really think its not that frequent that you enter a locked down computer which doesnt allow you to run portable apps.

        • Tim Lenahan
          January 19, 2010 at 11:06 am

          Don't worry, I too like using my thumb drive! Just right now in my life I don't have MUCH use for one. I use the PortableApps suite a lot because I like the programs they've included and the file menu.

          I have actually experienced a company banning the use of thumb drives. I think they were afraid of viruses, etc. I suppose there are people who don't understand the safety precautions when using them. A ban may be a bit over reacting but they DO occur.

        • aoi_sora9x
          January 19, 2010 at 5:08 pm

          That really sucks. Viruses occur because ppl are just too lazy to find a free anti virus application. Actually i have encountered some computers that ban thumbdrives. But in those cases, the computers also run IE6, it just... doesnt play nice with all those online applications anyway.

  21. JK III
    January 17, 2010 at 3:15 pm

    My vote goes for desktop-based word processors, as I haven't even once tried an online word processor. That's because I have a slow internet connection (and dont want to spend money on a faster one).

    Basically, it doesn't matter if I have a slow connection or a fast one, as the whole idea of "web-apps" doesn't make sense to me. Specially, for a program such as a word processor, where exchange of information is not needed and the user can do his work alone and need not be connected with anyone, internet in not required. So, unless collaboration is needed, I would always choose an offline app over an online one. Also, I have a lot of free space on my HD, so I am not worried about my word processor taking a few megs.

    PS: Now I'm gonna try an online word processor, just for the sake of exploring new stuff. :)

    • Tim Lenahan
      January 17, 2010 at 4:58 pm

      These are good points to consider. I can really depend on a person's situation and needs. If you don't need portability (a big one for me) and collaboration (another really big one for me), then an online word processor may not be useful.

      Can I ask which program you DO use?

      • JK III
        January 19, 2010 at 8:14 am

        When talking about portability, it's better and I suppose even faster to use a USB FD than accessing an online app. As for collaboration, online apps are a clear winner.

        Well, I currently use the ol' MS Word (actually the whole MS Office). I tried OpenOffice but didn't like it. I usually love open-source programs, but I think OpenOffice still has a lot of work to do if it wants some real market share.

        And I "guess" currently no online word processor comes to the level of either one (in terms of features).

        IMHO, the verdict: If you want collaboration, go online, otherwise stay on desktop.

  22. Chris
    January 17, 2010 at 2:56 pm

    I really like being able to access my documents from anywhere, but the spreadsheets in Google Apps are not very usable once they get to a decent size.

    I especially find it annoying that every time you re-open the spreadsheet, or change tabs, you are always at the top of the sheet instead of where you were last editing.

    • Tim Lenahan
      January 17, 2010 at 4:56 pm

      Very valid points! The spreadsheets I use are usually small so Google Docs works fine for me:) I just keep a sheet of contacts which I print out and use to take attendance (I also keep info on them that I hide so I don't have to print all of it each week).

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