Start-up taps Flash for online word processor

Massachusetts-based Virtual Ubiquity bets on slick, document-centric user interface for online word processor. Image: The buzz on Virtual Ubiquity

A software start-up called Virtual Ubiquity is joining the ranks of entrepreneurs convinced they can make a better online word processor.

Today, Web-based text editors are typically written using a Web development technique called Ajax, which lets people drag and drop items and obviates the need to press the browser refresh button.

Virtual Ubiquity chose to write its application, called Buzzword, to run in Adobe's Flash Player, which is installed in most Web browsers. It is doing the programming in Adobe's Flex 2.0 development environment.

Choosing Flash as a "run time" for Buzzword allows the company to improve on the existing crop of online word processors from companies like Google and Zoho, said Rick Treitman, CEO of the Waltham, Mass.-based Virtual Ubiquity.

When people create a document using the service, they don't have to create a "preview" of what the document looks like before printing it, he said.

"We're doing the same thing Zoho is except it's got a full-blown pagination engine underneath it," Treitman said. "The design point is the document. We try to keep you in the document as much as possible."

The service will also include a commenting feature with visual sticky notes designed for when people work on common documents over the Web.

The company plans to offer a limited beta in the spring and an open beta in the fall.

In terms of the audience, Virtual Ubiquity plans to stay clear of the enterprise market, which is dominated by Microsoft Office.

Instead, the goal is to offer the service to students and schools, which are typically cash-strapped and can't spend on IT.

"High school and college students are a population that writes a lot and they're highly mobile," he said. "They're such denizens of the Web, already they think nothing of passing machines around because most of their life is there (on the Web) anyway."

Also, Treitman thinks that small-office workers or ad hoc groups, like volunteer or religious institutions, would use the shared document features as a replacement for e-mailing attachments.

The company intends to offer the service for free and get revenue from advertising and integrated search services.

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