Zoho Office Suite

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Zoho Office Suite

Many companies have tried with limited success to take on Microsoft Office. I still refuse to use either OpenOffice or the Software 602 office suites because both are too clunky for daily use. Recently a number of Web apps have been appointed the "MS Office killers" for various reasons. I think the demise of Microsoft's cash cow is greatly over exaggerated , but the online versions succeed in usability where their downloadable counterparts have failed at providing a highly usable experience . My favorite of this category is Zoho Office Suite, which includes a spreadsheet, word processor and basic presentation maker. There's also a downloadable collaboration tool for things like calendar sharing, group email, and meeting planning, free for up to 10 users, which I'm not covering here. One recently added feature is the ability to open any Word document or Excel file online through a browser plugin without needing to download the file first - this is a huge leap in creating a fully usable online office experience.

Zoho Writer

If you need most of the features of Microsoft Word, but it isn't on your computer or simply isn't in your budget, you could download one of those bulky free Office Suites, like OpenOffice or Software 602, but there's an easier solution. Zoho Writer is a browser-based word processing application with every feature I typically use in Microsoft Word. It formats text with fonts, styles, highlighting and all the standard text layout features. Zoho Writer has a spell checker that seems better than any of the spelling functions of the free office suites. It outputs files as DOC, SXW, PDF, ODT, RTF, TXT and HTML. A function for posting to blogs at Blogger, LiveJournal, TypePad and WordPress, as well as any installation with support for the metaWeblog API makes it an ideal solution for writing online posts that make you look and sound smart. All the features I mentioned here work without ever creating an account with Zoho. By signing up for a free account you get additional features like emailing from within the application. Emailing your desktop documents into Zoho for online backup or to edit them on other machines. Versioning makes it easy to see the document at earlier points in the writing process. You can create templates. By assigning permissions to other people you can add read and edit functionality for multiple reviewers. If you store many documents in Zoho Writer, a tagging system helps make it easy to find specific information.

Zoho Sheet

I rarely use spreadsheet applications. Most of my data analysis consists of reviewing financial information in my accounting program or studying Web statistics in something like Google Analytics. Zoho Sheet is perfect for light duty spreadsheet usage. It does all the basic spreadsheet calculations. Zoho Sheet imports data from existing Excel and OpenOffice Calc files as well as CSV files. Like Zoho Writer you can either work in a mode that requires no login or create an account to maintain a set of online spreadsheet files. Since I'm not a heavy spreadsheet user, I can't speak to the full abilities of spreadsheet calculation with Zoho Sheet. For the most part the basic functions have been perfect for my needs. One thing I didn't like was the lack of a unified account creation when creating an account for both Zoho Writer and Zoho Sheet. Presumably this is something the company will eventually fix.

Zoho Show

More recently Zoho added this PowerPoint competitor to their stable of free Web apps. Like PowerPoint, Zoho Show creates slide decks for presentations. From adding graphics and text, to adding timed transitions, Zoho Show will do basic presentation tasks. Unlike Zoho Writer and Zoho Sheet which compete readily with all the common functions of comparable offerings in the MS Office suite, Zoho Show comes up a little short. There's no support for audio or video, two components I'm regularly asked about for PowerPoint. They do get bonus points for supporting image importing from Flickr, but I'm sensitive to the many situations when audio or video come in handy to make a key presentation point. For the basic text and images presentation, Zoho Show is quick and easy to use - and if you've got an Internet connection, you never need to worry about not being able to access your presentation from any machine with Firefox or Internet Explorer.

The thing I like about this entire suite of apps is how quickly the pages load and how well the features respond. Based on my experiences with the downloadable Microsoft Office alternatives, Zoho is faster to respond and feels like the interface is designed by someone who cares about usability. The features are easy to find and readily exposed. Even familar keyboard shortcuts like Ctrl+B for bold, Ctrl+C for copy, Ctrl+V for paste and Ctrl+A for Select All work as if you were in an offline application. I'm not quite ready to abandon the old faithful feel of Microsoft Office, but when I'm working on a project on multiple machines, this suite of Zoho apps is perfect for making sure I always have the latest version of an article on the machine I need it.

BTW, this entire article was written in the no login version of Zoho Writer.