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Life in the Clouds May 13, 2011

Posted by Marcus in Uncategorized.
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Over the past couple years, there have been increasing development in the area of online productivity apps. In the more specific area of office suites, Google, Microsoft, and Zoho have all created online office programs free for use by the public. I personally spent a good amount of time in all three office environments, and hope to give you some insight into the differences during this article. Please note that all three of these companies have paid business versions with more features than the free ones, however I am writing this article at a consumer level and will disregard those options.

Word Alternative

Zoho Writer, Google Docs Write, and Word Web App all attempt to do the same thing, however they try and achieve this in very different ways. Shining above the rest is Zoho Writer. It is the most complete out of the three. I personally had a good experience with the app. I never felt like I had been shorted on features, it was always fast enough to get things done and overall just was a positive experience. There menu system worked very similar to the Offline Microsoft word interface witch drastically decreased the learning curve for using the software. Another feature that I really liked was the use of tabs. This allows you to have multiple documents open in one window, and is completely unique to the Zoho Office experience.

Coming in a strong second for word processing is Microsoft Word Web App. The app is ultimately fast, works well and is designed like the latest version of Microsoft office, making the learning curve for the software almost null. Unlike the other apps you are required to name and set the share group for the document prior to opening. This is not a huge deal for most people, but it seemed to help me keep things organized inside the enviromet. The option seems to be fastest option out of the three and I have not encountered any glitchiness. What I don’t like about this app is the lack of features. It is a pretty bare bones application and it is clear that Microsoft wanted to make this a compliment to their offline software in contrast to a standalone option. Along with that, your files are stored in Windows Live Sky Drive. The Sky Drive is 20 gigabytes which is ample space for me personally; however, there is no way to expand the storage space at the consumer level.

Moving on to Google Docs Write, we begin to look at the weakest of the three apps. And I don’t say that because Google’s attempt is bad, I say it because there is nothing outstanding about it. It does have an auto save feature, which helps make sure things don’t get lost. However besides that it just doesn’t stick out in anyways. The Menu system looks like it was pulled directly out of the early 2000’s, and the experience is generally slower than the other two options. I tried my best to find a reason to use this particular app, but I just haven’t been able to. It does use your Google account, but Zoho also allows such an option, and you can make a Microsoft account with your Google email. All in all it isn’t bad; Docs Writer just has failed to stick out among some other very good apps.

Excel Alternative

Microsoft Excel Web App shines in this category for a simple reason. None of the apps I spent time with seemed to have a very robust list of features, and its interface and speed really shined ounce again. All of the excel options are “good enough” to get work done. But they don’t do near as much as Microsoft Excel offline or most other offline spreadsheet applications. Zoho sheet came in second because of its ability once again to use tabs of documents inside of one window as well as a macro feature for people who need more complexity in their spreadsheets. Google Docs Spreadsheet came in a close third. Again, it isn’t because it is a bad program. Google pulled another third place because it doesn’t have anything that really makes you want to use the software specifically. Google did a good job, but the job simply wasn’t good enough.

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PowerPoint Alternatives

A round of applause for Zoho, because they truly hit their Zoho Show app out of the park. The first thing I noticed inside this application was that the interface was really good. The learning curve is extremely low for a piece of software that I have never used before. Beyond that it is the most feature rich out of the three applications. One note is a share presentation feature in which you can share a live presentation with other people in real time. It is really hard to find anything Zoho did wrong with the software. So a hearty congratulations to them, because Zoho Show just works, and it works well.

Google Docs Presentation finally pulls itself out of third place with their presentation app.  The features are basic, and it is probably the slowest out of the three. In spite of that it does share a feature with Zoho that allows you to use the presentation as an embeddable object on a website. It ends up just pulling in front of our last place contestant PowerPoint Web App. That is hard to say, especially since I do think Google has done the worse job on this job than Docs Spreadsheet or Docs Write.

Microsoft, as stated before, did not do well in this category. Once again I liked the use of the actual office interface. Besides that, the software is almost completely devoid of features. It also does not allow you to use the presentations online the same way that Google Docs and Zoho do. It still will do simple editing, and has just enough features to get by. I would not use this app to make an entire presentation from scratch.

Summing it Up

I was actually rather impressed with all three solutions as I used them. These applications that I reviewed are not all that is offered by the services; however they are the applications that all three have in common. As recommendations go, I recommend both Zoho and Microsoft Web Apps. It really depends on what you are looking for. If you want online storage for you documents and a simple editor that naturally integrates with Microsoft office, Web Apps are the way to go. If you are looking for a complete online office solution to use as a replacement of your office suite, I recommend Zoho all the way. But in all honesty don’t go by my word completely, Try the three for yourself and see what works best for you. Thanks for reading, and be sure to leave any questions or comments.