Online Word Processing – Part 2 – MS Office Online

In the previous episode on this topic, I’ve been taking a look at Colabora Online and word processing in the browser in combination with Nextcloud. Unfortunately, in my humble opinion, Colabora Online suffers from a number of shortcomings, that have never been fixed over the years. My main issue with the solution is that the screen is rendered on the server side, which introduces a noticeable lag, which gets worse the further away the server is located. But it seems to be an architectural decision that can’t easily be changed. So how do other online office solutions fare in this regard?

Even though I would not use it for my personal needs due to privacy reasons, I had a look at Microsoft’s Office Online, or MS 365, or whatever it is called these days. Fortunately, one can try out the product for free. Immediately, I noticed that editing a text document in the browser felt absolutely smooth. There is no noticeable delay, even over a cellular connection with additional delay, and the server being somewhere in the cloud rather than just a few meters away. So how do they do it, the screen can’t possibly be rendered remotely!?

To find out, I deactivated cellular connection on the smartphone I used as a Wi-Fi tethering gateway for my notebook, but left the Wifi hotspot running. Even without Internet connectivity, I could continue to type in and modify text in the document and even scroll up and down. The screen only froze after around 10-15 seconds and the browser app complains about the broken link to the server. But there we go, this shows that the complete rendering is done on the client side.

From a usability point of view, this is the way to go. Sorry Colabora, but your approach doesn’t work for me. So is there an open source alternative for self hosting? Indeed there is: Onlyoffice! It seems Onlyoffice has been the browser based office solution of choice of Nextcloud for quite a number of years now. However, I’ve never tried it so far. Time to change this. Stay tuned for the results in a follow up post.