Sufyan bin Uzayr, Freelance Writer, Graphic Artist and Photographer. www.sufyan.co.nr
There are several online office suites out there, and possibly some really good ones too. But the trouble with online office suites is that you never know how long will they last, if they don't have a good number of users actually using them. That's why we've only compared the most popular online office suites there, which are not likely to disappear-Google Docs, Zoho Office, and Think Free Office. Here's what we found.
Google Docs and spreadsheets
You really cannot think of the cloud without thinking Google! Google offers its own version of cloud productivity suite under the umbrella of Google Docs (http://docs.google.com). You just need to have an account to use it. If you intend to use only Google Docs, you can do so for free. But if you combine it with Google Apps (that will include Analytics, GMail and other tools for your website), it will cost you a price depending on the size of your enterprise. Either way, Google Docs is by far one of the simplest cloud office suites to use.
Google Docs offers documents, spreadsheets, presentations and forms, along with Calendar and Notes (the last one being offered separately as Google Notebook as of now, but if you use the same account to access both Docs and Notebook, it is simple to club them together). The interface is nothing outstanding to talk about.
The word processor offers almost all the standard functionality one would expect or need, including several common fonts and other formatting aids. You can import or export the file as PDF, DOC, ODT, HTML or even TXT. In fact, Google Docs supports more formats than any other cloud-based office suite.
However, if you plan to edit a PDF or DOC file from your computer, you will have to upload it and subsequently convert it to Google Docs' own format.
The spreadsheet, however, does lag behind in terms of the Wizards offered in MS Excel or Open Office Calc. Other wise, it has all the formulas and charts in its armour. You can also insert custom forms, drawings and even scripts in your spreadsheets.
The Presentation software offered in Google Docs is at par with the competition, and if I may admit, even beats most Open Source Office Suites out there. There are several themes for presentation design, and it has all the features that one could ask for – speaker notes, slide sorters, rehearsals – you name 'em!
However, one of the most striking feature of Google Docs is its powerful Drawing software. Not that it will retire your Adobe Photoshop, but it surely will not lose to the likes of Open Office Draw. Creating simple figures is pretty easy, and on a side-note, it comes with support for transparent backgrounds by default.
Among other noteworthy elements, Google Docs also lets you create forms and other similar documents. You can specify whether your files are private to yourself, shared with specific people or publicly visible on the Internet. For downloadable documents like applications, the last option is indispensable and for collaboration with other employees of your enterprise, the 'Shared with person' comes handy. In fact, Google Docs seems to be the best suite for collaboration – it even offers simultaneous discussions and notes while editing a document (and yes, a Chat functionality is in the pipeline).
The last component of Google Docs is Google Notebook for jotting down of thoughts and notes. Actually, it isn't yet fully integrated into Docs and thus is separately available at http://notebook.google.com
Zoho Office Suite (www.zoho.com) seems to be a mixed blessing. On the positive side, it offers a plethora of options including Chat, Mail, CRM, Invoice, Wiki, Docs, Planner, Notebook, Calendar and many others. Clearly, its an ideal choice for an enterprise as it offers separate solutions for Business Planners, CRMs, etc. You don't need to have a special account, as login is also possible via Facebook, Yahoo! Google or Google Apps account.
However, Zoho is not free for Business use. Or for decent business use. It offers a free personal account of 1 GB. That data usage limit surely will suffice for general users, but as your enterprise grows, so will your expenditure. For a mid-sized enterprise, the Standard plan would cost $3 per additional user (per month). It will still be cheaper than non-Cloud options, and its collaboration features will still be better than Google Docs, but paying such an amount for it may not be everyone's cup of tea. There is a free trial option that you can use to check if Zoho meets your requirements and is worth the bucks!
Zoho's word processor (Writer), spreadsheet (Sheet) and other components are all very nifty – as long as you don't ask them to open huge files. A spreadsheet of 400 rows took 2 minutes to load with 2 error messages – not good in my view! The Help is poorly documented, so you're on your own for most of the time.
Think Free Office
Think Free (www.thinkfree.com) offers three main features – Write (word processor), Calc (spreadsheet) and Show (presentation). Clearly, this does not seem to be much, compared to what Google Docs and Zoho have in their artillery. But whatever Think Free offers, it makes sure that is the prime in its league. Think Free Write has almost all the features of MS Word – ruler bar, autoshapes, text boxes, clip art, mail merge and so on. The spell checker in Think Free is the only one on the cloud that supports Auto Correct. Also, if the given clip arts do not suffice, Think Free also supports addition of images from Flickr. The integration with web services doesn't end there – you can directly post articles to your enterprise's Wordpress blog, etc.
Think Free also has a fullscreen mode option, which hides the browser's menu bar so that you can get a better view while working. While the word processor is as good as it can be, the spreadsheet software has compatibility issues with MS Excel, especially in terms of macros. Not that it doesn't support them, it just prefers to hang! But if you're not into macros, you can bet on Calc. A sample sheet of 250 rows and 68 columns took barely few seconds to load.
Summing it up
So, amidst these, which one do you use? Well, if Google Docs is surely anyone's best choice. If you really wish to spend for a cloud-based Office solution, you may opt for Zoho. Think Free does not offer CRM and other features, but for standard office productivity, it surely performs great!