Office Online, the $155-a-month Microsoft Office rental service provided by esolutions, works.
The service was launched in the middle of August and has about 140 users, half of whom are paying customers, says a spokesperson for esolutions, the application service provider (ASP) alliance of Telecom, EDS and Microsoft.
After an hour or two of using the service to run Microsoft Word across the Internet, I can report it functions at least as fast as an older version of the software does on my local hard drive. And getting the software to work remotely is surprisingly pain-free. Once provided with a user name and password by esolutions, and told the URL to enter in Internet Explorer, it merely involves downloading Citrix client software, which installed itself on my 266MHz Pentium II notebook PC.
Launching applications - I have a choice of Word, Excel, PowerPoint and Outlook - is a matter of clicking on the appropriate icon.
Before the application fires up you're asked what level of access to your local system you wish to give the remote server; if you give it none, you're unable to open local files or save to your local drive. Applications launch briskly. I was prepared for sluggish performance using Word remotely, after Office Online pilot tester ASB Bank complained that it was slow. But my experience has been the opposite: the remote version of the software was twice as fast as my local version at doing a search and replace on a long document.
The test is hardly scientific, however, since I'm running Word 97 locally and esolutions provides Word 2000. So if the remote connection is acting as a brake, Microsoft has clearly performed miracles in speeding up Word between the 97 and 2000 versions.
I have run Word online from home and work: the home connection uses Telecom's JetStream ADSL service and at work we connect to Asia Online via a 2Mbit/s leased line. There is no discernible speed difference between the two.
Saving files is straightforward. Esolutions provides 20MB of storage on its server, which is located at Telecom's Mayoral Drive exchange and managed by EDS; files can also be stored locally.
Printing presented a problem, until after troubling the Office Online helpdesk for a solution, I discovered I was out of paper. An error message informed me there was a mismatch between the paper size specified in the print dialogue box and in the printer control panel, but wasn't clever enough to tell me the real problem. Apologies to the helpdesk.
The 'piglet' test
I tested the comparative speed of Word run remotely and locally by performing a search and replace on a 5MB (400,000-word) document.
My local PC, a 266MHz PII running Windows 98 and Word 97, took 63s to replace "the" with "piglet" (about 30,000 finds); Word 2000 run remotely took 25s to perform the same test on a copy of the document on the server; Word 2000 run remotely took 70s to do the test on a local copy of the document.