IBM Docs is the new name for the technology preview which was previously called IBM LotusLive Symphony. It essentially is IBM’s foray into the browser-based office productivity suite and competes at some levels with Google Docs and Microsoft Office 365.
So what does IBM Docs have going for it that the others don’t?
- Its free
- It supports real time collaboration on a document – i.e. two people working on the same document at the same time.
- It’s compatible with OpenOffice and Microsoft Office document formats.
- It will be available as an on-premises install as well as IBM-hosted cloud offering.
For me its the last of these points which will allow organisations to really make the leap into a much simpler, integrated and browser-based IT model. If your organisation isn’t yet ready to embrace a private or public cloud offerings, IBM Docs is one of the first to offer you the benefits of browser-based document editing, but hosted on your own servers in your own premises.
So what does IBM Docs do and how good is it?
IBM Docs is currently available for you to play around with on IBM’s Lotus Greenhouse site. The screenshots in this blog post are from that system and I recommend you have a go with your own documents to get a feeling for the features.
Creating a wordprocessing document
When you click on the New Document button, you’re asked to provide the name of a document to create. After this, you see the following screen:
You begin typing like you would in any other word processor.
As you can see from the above, it supports the usual headings and text formatting controls we’ve become used to. More complex documents are also supported with tables and other special layouts.
So far, nothing much different from other online document editors. However, lurking under the Team menu option, or if you pop the sidebar out you find that the social aspects appear.
Social Word Processing
IBM Docs lets you assign different sections of the document to different users, with actions to be assigned and workflow around the review. In the screenshot below I have created a couple of sections, one for me to work on and one for my colleague Martin to work on.
Martin and I can now collaboratively work on the document, constrained in this case by the sections I have set up. When I have done my part, I can mark my section complete and move it onto the next section of the workflow.
In the above example I have entered my text. When I click on Mark Complete an email is sent to the approver (me in this case). As the approver I have a number of options to progress the edit:
If I come out of the IBM Docs document and then go to Activities on Greenhouse, I find that a new activity has been created for my document because I created assignments on the different sections. Opening the Activity up shows the different tasks, the assignments and the current status of those assignments:
Because these assignments are treated like any other in Activities, they now appear in my To Do list in Connections. If I have set up the Activities sidebar in the Notes client, they’ll be there too. Particularly nice is the fact that the individual entries in the Activity contain a link to the document itself.
Sharing your document with others
IBM Docs offers a broad range of options for sharing your work with others. The obvious one is that you can share the document online and send people a link. However, the concern that probably most people have about such an online system is the ability to save the document as a Word or other format file.
The good news is that this is easy to achieve.
Simply select More Actions, Download as Microsoft Office to download your document in Microsoft office format.
The result, as you can see above is a very acceptable rendition of the document, in this case shown in Microsoft Office Word 2011 for the Mac.
Uploading your own documents
Having shown how good IBM Docs is at creating and sharing documents, what about uploading pre-existing documents into it? I uploaded a proposal document I created as a .docx file (new Office format) into IBM docs.
As you can see, IBM Docs does a pretty good job at rendering it in a working format. Here’s the original in Word:
Next time I’ll take a look at the features of the Spreadsheet area in IBM Docs. I hope you’ve enjoyed this glimpse into the Technical Preview of IBM Docs.