Desktop word processors are powerful programs that can be adapted to users’ preferred ways of working, but they have their limitations, particularly when document editors are working as a team.
Many of the tools available in desktop word processors are now available online and in some cases these tools are more powerful. This is the case for online dictionaries such as Word Reference [<http://www.wordreference.com
>], and also for automatic translators, such as Google Translate [<http://translate.google.com
>] and Microsoft Translator [<http://www.bing.com/translator
Teamwork can be enhanced by synchronising desktop files to a shared online copy, as with the service offered by DropBox [<http://www.dropbox.com
The most radical option is to do away with the desktop word processing environment altogether, at least in the initial stages of text creation. Basic online word processors are a viable alternative to desktop software. Popular options are GoogleDocs (recently rebranded as Google Drive) [<http://www.google.com/drive
>], Zoho [<http://www.zoho.eu
>] and Microsoft Office 365 [<http://www.office.com/
>]. On the other hand, if you want an alternative to Google, there are a number of possibilities, including Synqion [<http://www.synqion.com
>], Nextcloud [<http://www.nextcloud.com
>] or Tresorit [<http://www.tresorit.com
>]. (For a useful website listing these and other possibilities, see Pixel Privacy [<http://www.pixelprivacy.com
The word processing environment in these online editors is more rudimentary but they offer advantages over desktop word processors:
- File storage is more secure online than on a local hard disk.
- All previous versions are stored and the editing of each version can be traced.
- Since all editors work on the same version, there is never any conflict between versions from different sources.
- There is enhanced integration with other online resources, such as automatic translation and dictionary look-up.
Online systems also facilitate the use of shared translation memories and terminology databases. Together with the use of specialised automatic translation systems, these hold much promise for the future as a viable method of fast, cheap, approximate translation and for the preparation of first drafts of foreign language texts, which need limited post-editing to be converted into quality publications.
Authors can experiment with this kind of system for free with Google Translator Toolkit [<http://translate.google.com/toolkit?hl=en
>]or Wordfast Anywhere [<http://www.freetm.com
>]. The use of online word processing and translation tools is bound to increase in the future.
Finally, however, be aware that your own organisation may well have created university-specific tools for online collaboration. In some cases, there may be institutional preferences or requirements for the exclusive use of such dedicated tools and you should get acquainted with both these tools and whatever guidance or instructions are provided on their use.