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Sunday, March 26, 2006

330 KB That Will Change History

Kevin E. Cleary

Under our noses, something totally revolutionary is about to happen. Users of the Firefox internet browser will soon never have to worry about paying for Microsoft Word. A program called ajaxWrite (, must have Firefox 1.5 or better) is about to clear some serious space on our hard drives. They are also, unwittingly or not, about to make some older computers usable again, which means cheaper computers can jump on the Information Superhighway.

According to their Frequently Asked Questions Page, “AJAX is an acronym for Asynchronous Java Script and XML” Translated, that means it’s a computer programming technique that essentially allows them to broadcast an interactive program onto your computer, in this case a beta-test version of Microsoft Word. Think of it as being like Willy Wonka’s machine that sends the candy bar through your TV.

The program is a web-based application that mimics the look-and-feel of Microsoft Word but can import and export several other formats, like WordPerfect, Microsoft Works, and others. The application is only 330KB, which makes it smaller than picture files on many computers. By contrast,’s (Note: I have not downloaded and can’t comment yet on the comparison of features between them. From what I understand, OpenOffice is a full suite of programs rather than just one application) download is about 108 MB, which will take quite a while to download if you’re on dial-up.

You can save the files you write to your computer, although the program could use a “Save your changes before closing?” reminder. It was able to open most of the Word Perfect files I threw at it, and it didn’t even try to reformat my resume’, which had strange fonts and a proprietary template in it...something that has freaked Microsoft Word out in the past many times. It doesn’t seem able to open Adobe PDF files, but neither can Word. It also doesn’t seem able to handle WordPerfect documents with pictures in them, but I’m sure compatibility issues will be worked out in the near future. With its currently limited font selection and still-in-development spell check, ajaxWrite isn’t ready for prime time yet, but it’s going to be huge when it hits.

The possibilities of this astound me. Right now, the potential of this excites me more than the actual product; but the concept and execution of it are revolutionary in and of themselves... and it’s still a beta that works properly! If we could pair this with a domestic $100 laptop, every American could become computer literate within a few years, almost regardless of economic standing. Older computers that have been donated to charity can be resurrected and given internet connections for people with low-incomes. Processing-intensive applications like special effects rendering can be paired with this and distributed computing to make number-crunching a breeze.

But the real winners from this concept will be computer users, especially computer users on a tight or non-existent budget. By sticking it to the Man, and ditching Internet Explorer, users can (insert sarcastic finger quotes) enjoy using Microsoft Word for free. This would enable someone to more practically work on a resume’ (or a novel, essay, freelance piece, etc.) at a library or free computer lab if also armed with a floppy disk, or even a free email account. I certainly could have used this when I didn’t own a working printer.

Yuppies could shed some extra pounds and carry around a small USB drive. Firefox needs to add an extension to their browser that lets people open this application within the browser without having to go to the ajaxWrite website first, like how they have incorporated an optional Google search bar. Being able to quickly write a document within another browser tab will make it that much easier and faster for users to ditch Internet Explorer. And ajaxWrite should get its program ready for the spotlight, because they’re about to take center-stage in a revolution.


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