I’ve stopped using Office Live Workspace for now. It’s a service with a lot of potential but a few areas that are rough around the edges. Although I encourage you to try OLW and the other new services, my sense is that most people won’t be ready to change their traditional methods of saving and working on files until these services are seamless.

Office Live Workplace is Microsoft’s free service for storing files online (primarily Office files – Word, Excel, Powerpoint – and Acrobat PDFs). There are two important reasons to use the service – the online files can be opened from any computer anywhere, and they can be shared easily. If you’re collaborating on a document, everyone can work on a single copy of the file – no merging changes to files exchanged by email!On your primary computer, you can install a bit of software so the files can be opened directly from a toolbar or menu added to the Office programs. Here’s more information about OLW.

I created a folder with fifty frequently-used Word files. When I browse to the folder online, each file can be previewed instantly or opened into Word with a click of a button. It’s good stuff! I don’t want to sound too discouraging.

But there’s an annoyance. The files appear in a random order. It doesn’t seem to be the order they were uploaded, or last modified, or anything else I can figure out, it’s just a random shuffle. There are column headings for Name / Date modified / Size, so they can be sorted with a single click, but they’re back in the same random order the next time I go back to the list.

That’s more frustrating if you access the files directly from the Office programs. In Word 2007, a new option appears on the Quick Access menu in the upper left to “Open from Office Live.” A flyout menu displays the folders stored online; clicking on a folder name opens a File Open window displaying the individual files. In that window, the files cannot be sorted – they appear in the same random order and the only way to locate one is to scroll down the list. It’s just not practical for more than a handful of files.

There’s a more significant problem, though. All too often I could not save a document back to OLW after I had edited it. If the Internet connection is broken while a document is open, OLW will throw up an error message about the file being “locked”. The file has to be saved with a different name. It happened to me repeatedly, especially if my notebook went to sleep or into hibernation with an open document. I have multiple versions of the same document with slightly different names – exactly what OLW is supposed to avoid for evolving versions of documents. Here’s an online forum where people are talking about that problem.

Those problems will likely be fixed. A more subtle problem is that files stored in OLW are not indexed and cannot be searched along with local files. (In fact, I don’t see any way to search files in OLW at all.) I depend on Vista’s search technology. I can imagine that it will be extended to the online files but I haven’t seen any reference to that feature yet.

Live Mesh may absorb OLW, since it directly addresses some of those problems. I’ll write some more about Live Mesh soon.

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