Gadget speak

Microsoft has decided to take on Google Docs with the launch of its very own 'cloud computing' package. E&T compares both application suites.

Separated at birth

Microsoft Office Live workspace versus Google Office

It used to be the case that the reason to buy a PC or Mac was to run a spreadsheet and word processing application. These apps were instant successes when Microsoft chose to bundle these programs and add other options, such as a presentation and database software.

Today, it is still a good earner for the Redmond-based company, despite several competitors launching similar products. But, recently, Microsoft Office has faced a more competitive rival in the shape of Google Docs.

In response, Microsoft has recently announced Office Live Workspace in beta for everyone to access for free. Like Google Docs, it lets you access your documents online and share your work with others.

Interestingly, with Office Live you do not require an MSN email address. Once signed up, you are presented with the 'Documents' area where you can upload, view and share files with others.

The online interface of Office Live is based on 'Workspaces'. The 'My Workspaces' section is to the left of the main window where there are several readymade templates available.

Files can't be edited from within workspace, but clicking on 'edit' will open them in Microsoft Office. Individual documents or entire workspaces can be shared with others. However, Office Live does not offer offline collaboration. Documents have to be 'checked out' and 'checked in,' but it integrates with 'SharedView' for real-time screen sharing.

Both Google Docs and Office Live Workspace are free services, with Office Live Workspace limited to 500MB - which equates to about 1,000 Microsoft Office documents.

In Google Docs, each user has a combined limit of 5,000 word processing documents and presentations and 5,000 images, plus a further 1,000 spreadsheets.

One feature that distinguishes both offerings is how collaboration works. In Google Docs, users are able to work on files together, in real-time. Up to ten people may edit or view at the same time. For spreadsheets, up to 50 people can edit the same document.

Office Live Workspace works differently. It allows for collaboration, but not real-time, online collaboration. Instead, if a user is editing a document the file is checked out. Only when it is checked back in can other users edit it.

And this brings us to the main difference. Google Docs is a more complete, standalone offering - there is no offline software to use, but you can download a file to a PC to use with Microsoft Office or Open Office, for example.

Office Live Workspace is the Web-enabled aspect of Microsoft's Office software. From within the workspace, you click 'edit' to open the file with Microsoft Office on your desktop. It works with Office XP, 2003, or 2007. One suspects Microsoft has paid a big price in collaborative capabilities in order to be backwards compatible with older versions of Microsoft Office.

Google Docs can be viewed from any mobile device, but editing is not available. Office Live Workspace doesn't provide mobile access, but we suspect this will be available when the final code is released.

However, Office Live Workspace offers some interesting features, such as the 'Activities' feature which keeps track of workplace activities and can send you notifications when changes are made in the workspace. Integration with SharedView beta allows Office Live Workspace users to share screens with each other in real-time.

Microsoft will clearly have an advantage with its install base of users with Microsoft Office on business and personal desktops, who will like the fact that it adds extra features for their existing apps. Google Docs, for all its features, lacks many capabilities that Microsoft Office desktop applications offer - but, as stated earlier, it is a more complete offering.

Technology clinic 

Display technologies

In reference to the LG 5000 series HDTV (Gadgets, #8), is it plasma TV or LCD TV? If LCD TV, is it an OLED-based display device? Are the HDMI interfaces HDCP compatible?

Marek, by email

This model is an LCD television set - and as such is not an OLED-based display device. OLED (organic light-emitting diode) is a separate and competing technology to current LCD and plasma technologies. Currently, only Sony manufacture OLED TV sets - and the 11in XEL-1 model is only available in the US or Japan for $2,500. However, OLED is generally viewed as the display technology for tomorrow due to the low yields and the high cost of manufacture. And yes, the HDMI interfaces are HDCP compatible.

Dock or music server?

I am considering making my home music system digital. Put through a decent amp and speakers, will an iPhone produce lower fidelity and pleasure than a dedicated digital music server?

I listen to all genres of music, am sensitive to harsh treble and favour a warm sound over clinicality. If the difference is likely to be considerable, any advice on which path to take to digital music heaven would be very much appreciated.

Jeremy Carne, by email

The problem with the iPod dock set-up is that you are limited to the digital signal processing of the iPod device - and as you are a serious audiophile, this will produce noticeably lower fidelity even with a decent amplifier and quality speakers. Therefore, I would opt for a music server. There are now a few on the market. The one I would recommend is the Azur 640H Music Server from Cambridge Audio - available for around £600. Not only will it automatically rip your CDs, it will tag the MP3 files automatically. The 160GB drive is large enough for most collections stored at 320kb/s. Also, it can access music stored on your PC when connected to your home's wireless network.

Easy to read mobile

My mother is visually impaired. Can you recommend a mobile phone which has big buttons and an easy-to-read display?

D Fentiman, by email

I would recommend the EasyUse phone available from Silverphone.co.uk. The buttons are big and the LCD display is transreflective - it reflects most of the light that it is exposed to, and automatically adjusts the light emanating from the screen depending on how much light shines on it.

Xbox compatibility

I'm trying to provide reliable wireless and compatibility with Xbox 360. It seems that I can have one but not the other. What recommendations you would have for the Xbox 360? I know they do have a compatibility list, but unfortunately they haven't seen fit to include anything faster than 802.11g. I need extra range too (mostly).

Phil Rassell

Top on the list of your priorities is reliability, and it is plausible that your poor connection is due to the distance or the physical obstacles between the router and your console. My recommended solution is to add a 'range extender' to boost the single. You could also use an 802.11n router with MIMO (multiple in/multiple out) antennas that reduce dead spots. But make sure that it is backwards compatible with 802.11g. This would be the less reliable option, in my opinion.

Wireless home

What would be the best gadgets to get for a wireless home? I'm thinking printer, router, laptop, music, photo frames etc.

Dave Nash TMIET, by email

Slingbox gets my vote. This device sits between my wireless router and my TV set-top box and enables me to watch my favourite programmes anywhere in the world where there is a broadband Internet connection. It really proves its worth when I am travelling abroad, which frequently includes a Saturday to save on airline fares. I may miss my girlfriend, family and friends - but I never miss 'Match of the Day'. No doubt some of our readers will disagree with this choice (of wireless device, not required TV viewing!), so we would like hear about the wireless gadget that has improved your life.

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