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Writely is a product a bit further along in its development cycle; that is, it’s in beta. A beta meter on the file-list page tells you just how far along it is according to user comments.

This product is a gem—quite my favorite. Features work, including all the word-processing basics we’ve grown to love: cut, paste, bold, italics, numbering, bullets, and a variety of font sizes and styles. Better yet, shortcut keys like Ctrl+C and Ctrl+V work beautifully. The spell check operates with classy elegance. There is a multiple undo function. Even bookmarks are available, should you care for such.

The UI is intuitive, functioning the way you always wished it would. Some users might not like that the documents open in a separate window from the document list, but for those of us who have a half-dozen windows open at any time and can find the Alt+Tab combo on any keyboard blindfolded, this could be the best of all possible worlds.

In short, if I were on a cross-country odyssey, stopping in at public libraries to answer my email, Writely is the place I’d be making all those brilliant and poetically moving journal entries about the trip. For an application still in beta, this word processor works pretty darned well.

Collaboration features allow you to share documents with anyone whose email you specify. While you and your collaborators can enter text simultaneously, each time you click the refresh button in the toolbar, your version of the document is synched with everyone else’s recent entries. In fact, Writely notifies you if someone else is mucking around in the document at the same time as you are. (That is, you get a note, "Billie Bob is also editing this document.") This seems like it might be a functional paradigm for telephone conferencing.

On the other hand, while documents are easy to import with the Upload function, your formatting will take hit points in this word processor. Look at Figure 3, which shows what happened when I imported a Word document.

Figure 3

Figure 3 A formatted Word document (left) uploaded to Writely (right).

The header on the first page was pasted in as plain text, while the other headers were lost—as were footers, page numbering, and double spacing. The title font and location changed, etc. I might also add there’s a bit of a wait when uploading longer documents. Finally, bullets and numbers don’t nest nicely in Writely. Mind you, they don’t nest properly in Word 2002/2003, either.

But when you consider that Writely is clearly marked as beta, I have to say this is a remarkable achievement and an app to watch. More to the point, I’d blithely use it now for notes and drafts.

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