Tuesday, September 2, 2008

Free (and open source) software that you can use

There's a lot of good stuff out there. Good stuff that can potentially make our life easier.

The vast majority of use use MS Word to write our proposals, our letters - pretty much everything, but with the development of some great web services there are some tools that can help make your life easier. 

One of the biggest problems with MS Word is, and always has been, the difficulty of effective collaboration on a document. When everything is created with an application on your machine (often with you storing the files on your machine) it's hard to work on a document with someone else. There are ways round it - splitting up the document, version control etc, but wouldn't it be fantastic to have two people working on the same document at once?

Well, there is a pretty impressive suite of business apps at www.zoho.com, one of them is an online word processor. Just starting the application makes you realise that this isn't a cut-down web-based alternative to MS Word, this is a serious application in it's own right. 

But the feature I love about this application is the ability to invite users to share the document with you and allow them to work on it simultaneously in real time. 

Have you ever been working on a proposal and due to resource limitations had to email a copy of a document to several contributors and then spend another half day (or night) inserting it into the final proposal template and re-formatting it?

Or when you are in a hurry to get the document complete and you need to make changes to a section whilst someone else works on another section...whilst someone else is proofreading...

The opportunity for a genuine collaborative tool such as this to cut down time on proposal writing is massive.  There are other toosl - document history and the ability to go offline with documents (and the application) for work away from the web and synchronisation when you return online.

Combine this with online chat or Skype; use the new Google Chrome web browser and save Zoho Writer as an application on your desktop and this is what the web is about. This is what collaboration is all about.  

This can only make your proposal writing easier and your proposals better.

This is where we are now and for sure there are some features that we need from MS Word that are missing (mail merge for example). At the moment I'll be writing proposals in MS Word using the Learn to Write Proposals "Proposal Accelerator" and using Zoho for the collaborative elements but how much longer before we don't need to buy that expensive word processing application any more.

I'll be discussing how you can get some of my favorite and free time-saving, proposal-helping applications soon here in my blog.