Creating and editing documents is perhaps the easiest of tasks to do online. All those using GMail as their email system, would have noticed "Open as a Google Documents" as an option for their document attachments. Many would have at some point of time previewed, if not edited documents this way.
Documents have everything going for them for this usage scenario - they are usually small in size, usually not so complex that they can not be rendered in a browser using HTML and CSS. large parts of the internet are in fact still composed of interlinked documents. Any blogging software is essentially a tool for publishing documents online.
However, for most people a majority of documents aren't those they want on the internet for all people to see. You will want to have a private repository of your own content, which you would only like to share with a select few, and for this purpose you have services such as Zoho Docs, and Google Docs. Both of these enable you to create and edit documents online, and can import from most popular formats, such as those used by OpenOffice and Microsoft Office.
The Google Docs service is free and comes as a part of your Google Account. If you have a GMail address, you can easily access your documents account by visiting http://docs.google.com
At times you will need to collaborate with others on your documents, and Google Docs only makes this too easy. You can share your documents with people whether they have Google accounts or not, and your shared documents can be viewed and edited by the others using their own Google Docs account. Neither of you will need to download the document at any point of time, since the editor and the document are both rendered in the browser itself.
From there on to get the file to others who are still using offline office suites, you also have the option to attach the file as a Microsoft Office or OpenOffice document, and you can mail it straight from Docs. Any document that you get as attachments in GMail can be easily opened straight in to Docs without the need to download them first.
Online workflows for documents are no doubt better than any you can conceive while working offline. A simple case of collaboratively working on a single document is much more contrived while working offline, and even the simple addition of email makes this job much simpler. By using s services such as Google Docs or Zoho, you can achieve complicated sharing scenarios where multiple people have access to the same document, however in different capacities as an owner, an editor or a viewer. This is one place where the workflow available in online counterparts is much superior to those available offline.
Many people would prefer alternatives to using Google services. Whether it is out of lack of trust of just a different user experience, for you there are many other alternatives such as Zoho.com, which offers significantly more functionality than Google Docs, and integrate well with Google services. Besides Zoho and Google Docs, we have Adobe's Acrobat.com service; however, few others provide the level of integration and ease that is achieved with these two.
It is equally important that you be able to mix and match services to your desire. Just as you are not limited to use Microsoft Office suite just because you are running Windows, you should not be limited to using just Google Docs because you are using GMail, nor should it be too difficult to open files in Google Docs just because you are using a different email service.
If you use Google services, the workflow here is very simple, however for others, things aren't as smooth. To get any document that you receive in a mail into Google Docs, you will need to download the file to your desktop and then upload it in Google Docs. Google used to provide a service which allowed you to merely email any documents you get to a specific unique address, and they would automatically be imported as documents into your account. However this service is no longer offered. To view any online file in Google Docs you simply need to enter its URL in import function, however to edit it you will again need to download it and upload to Docs.
Zoho provides the same functionality, with the added advantage that you can open Google Docs documents straight in Zoho. With Zoho you can also open a document stored at any URL directly without downloading it.
With storing content online, you will begin to get used to the concept of storing each and every type of data in separate locations in separate services. Your documents might go in Google Docs or Zoho, and your images in another service such as Flickr or Picasa WebAlbums, and this is something which might take getting used to. Especially if you are using an uncommon combination of services such as Zoho docs with something like Photobucket, inserting images into your documents will not be as easy browsing to a folder and selecting a file.
The limits to what you can do online are decreasing quite fast. Even procedures such as converting text in an image to editable text is now something which can easily be done online. Many free and paid services exist which allow you to upload an image file and download the scanner counterpart. In fact such a functionality exists within Google Docs as well, although it is only accessible to developers.
For now even someone who can get all their work done online, will find a few stumbling blocks in some unexpected places every once in a while, especially when it comes to lack of integration and the lack of choice in service providers. These breaks in workflows while processing documents online can somewhat be forgiven considering the other advantages they bring, however they are an indication that despite the relative maturity of the offerings available, they are still not up to par.