This is an interesting development, but one that buys a lot of (potential) problems:
- If you want to work offline on a document why not simply export it to the word processor of your choice and then re-import it. Granted, using Gears allows you to keep the same interface, but that doesn't quite cut it
- How do you do your version control. Re syncing when one person is editing the document is fine, but when its a collaborative edit how do you resync - after all someone may have edited the document after you've modified it offline
These are major questions. Anyone who has ever worked on a document collaboratively knows that version control and syncing can be a nightmare.
So why would they do it?
There doesn't seem at first sight to be a compelling business case. Too tricky, too difficult and breaks collaborative editing, which is their unique selling proposition.
Well even with mobile internet, the internet isn't always on everywhere. In fact in a lot of places it simply isn't on at all. But it still begs the question why offline when you can export and work on with a standard word processor. After all good as Zoho is it's not as fully featured as Star/Open Office or Microsoft Office.
But then there's already devices like the Easy Neuf, basically an internet access terminal with some local compute and software execution. Now take it one step further and imagine a lightweight (in computing terms) portable computing device, sort of a mobile Easy Neuf. Could be a phone with a keyboard, could be someting like an OLPC, could be something we havn't seen yet, but the key thing is that they have some limited processing capability yet are supposed to have persistent internet connections.
And if it's portable, that's what it doesn't have. So suddenly you work on the plane, on the train, and then resync as soon as you have connectivity, without having to carry a fully featured computing device. And that is very interesting because the one thing we know about fully featured computing devices, aka laptops is that the battery life is crap. A pda with a keyboard does much better ...