Affinity Consulting Blog

Keeping documents in the Cloud is often safer and more secure than keeping them on your local computer or your firm's server. It can also be more convenient. I use Microsoft's OneDrive Cloud storage to store my client-related (and personal) documents. On my desktop PC, I have Word set to save automatically to OneDrive.

But what if your travel computer doesn't have Word installed? Or your prefer the travel with a lightweight and more secure device such as a Chromebook or iPad that can't run traditional desktop software? You can use mobile Word apps or the browser-based Word Online. Sadly, I've found that neither works particularly well for complex documents such as the appeal briefs that are central to my law practice. Garbled formatting often results. Fortunately, there is another way.

That way is to run desktop software virtually using a Cloud service called rollApp. I discovered rollApp while looking for a way to run Apache OpenOffice Writer on my new Asus Chromebook Flip. I've written in the past of my affinity (no pun intended) for Chromebooks as a portable device for use by lawyers. Several Chromebooks have been my work/travel companion. Most have been Intel-based Chromebooks. I could (and did) install Linux on each of them so I could run desktop software the very few times Cloud-based Chrome OS applications were insufficient to accomplish the task at hand.

My new Chromebook work/travel companion is the slick Asus Chromebook Flip. It differs from my previous Chromebooks in that is is powered by an ARM processor (like an iPad or cell phone), not a more traditional Intel processor. This means that although I can (and did) install Linux, there are far fewer desktop applications I can run on it. In the realm of full-featured word processing software (what I most need as an appellate attorney), I am limited to LibreOffice Writer. My preferred open-source Word alternative, OpenOffice Writer, is not yet available for ARM-based devices. For the complex documents I prepare, OpenOffice has fewer formatting glitches than LibreOffice when working with documents I created using MS Word on my main desktop computer. In fact, it is an almost perfect alternative to Word. If only it could use my favorite Word plugins like Best Authority and WordRake, it would be perfect. But that is not at this time possible.

Yes, I've tried Word Online and Google Docs. Both have a lot to commend them. But neither lets me edit an appeal brief that was started in the desktop version of Word without making unwanted formatting changes. For simpler documents, either would be excellent choices.

I was beginning to think that for all of its sleek portablity, solid aluminum construction, brilliant and responsive touch screen, and great battery life, I'd made a mistake buying the ARM-based Chromebook Flip. If all I could run on Linux was LibreOffice Writer, I may as well just use Word Online or Google Docs and clean up the formatting mess later when I got back to my Windows desktop. Then I found rollApp and its ability to run a virtual instance of OpenOffice Writer directly in Chrome OS. No Linux needed. There is even a Chrome web store app to make it easy. rollApp can also be used to run OpenOffice and dozens of other desktop applications on iPads, Android tablets, and many other devices.

So what is rollApp? Simply stated, it is a Cloud service that allows you to use OpenOffice and other partnered software on any device. The list of supported apps includes GIMP, Inkscape, OpenOffice Writer (equivalent to Word), OpenOffice Calc (equivalent to Excel) and OpenOffice Impress (equivalent to PowerPoint). The free version of rollApp gives you access to your documents and files stored on Cloud services like OneDrive, Dropbox, Box, and Google Drive. The Premium version of rollApp ($6.99 monthly, or $5.99 monthly if paid annually) lets you save new or edited documents to those same Cloud storage services, making your cloud-computing experience seamless.

Using rollApp, whenever my Chromebook is online, I can open the rollApp OpenOffice Writer app and see the full desktop version of OpenOffice Writer on my screen. It is even the most current version, OpenOffice 4.1.1. I was able to configure OpenOffice's options (default font, margins, etc.) just as I would do in Word or OpenOffice on my desktop computer. The settings are saved and applied to all future rollApp OpenOffice writer sessions. Because I've connected rollApp to my OneDrive file storage, I can open briefs, motions, and other client-related documents direclty from the rollApp OpenOffice Writer session for editing, then save the updated document back to my OneDrive. There is a modest amount of lag since this is being done over an Internet connection rather than locally, but so far the formatting of my documents has been perfect. None of the mangling of columns, margins, and other formatting glitches I've experienced with Word Online or the official Microsoft Word apps on my iPad or Android tablet.

If I cannot get online (unlikely since I can tether my Chromebook using my smart phone), I will be forced to use the offline version of Google Docs, which is OK in a pinch. Otherwise, I will use OpenOffice Writer hosted by rollApp. My first lengthy practice-related trips since discovering rollApp are coming up this month. I will put it to the test on the road and report back on the results.

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