Alternatives to Big-Name Tech Tools

Microsoft Office Alternatives: Productivity Software Showdown

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Price: Free for individuals; business pricing ranges from free for up to 1GB of storage and one workspace to $5 per user per month for 20 workspaces.

Platform: Online

License: Proprietary

Like Google Docs, Zoho is a cloud-based office suite that's delivered via the user's Web browser. Zoho offers more than 20 different applications for collaboration, business, and productivity purposes. In the latter category are the word processor, spreadsheet, presentation, note-taking and organizer tools that compete most directly with Microsoft Office. All are available in multiple languages.

Zoho Docs’ handy user dashboard provides an overview of current files and storage details. (Click image for full view.)
Zoho Docs is an online document management system that incorporates Zoho's word processor, spreadsheet, and presentation tools, among others, allowing users to store all files securely in a centralized location and then share or access them from anywhere. Individual use is free, but businesses pay a monthly fee. (Zoho requests that you e-mail them for a custom quote.)

Zoho's word processor, spreadsheet, and presentation tools support multiple office formats including Microsoft Office, Office Open XML, and Open Document Format. A particularly notable feature of the service, however, is that it offers a plug-in that lets you create, edit, and save your documents and spreadsheets directly to Zoho from within Microsoft Word or Excel.

Zoho also supports an offline mode in its word processor so that users can work in a browser even when not connected to the Internet, and then sync up later when they're back online. Mobile access is available via iPhone, Android, Blackberry, Windows Mobile, and Nokia (S60 platform) devices.

Another interesting feature of Zoho is that it has actually integrated its online project management tool and other features with Google's Apps. There's also a version designed for Microsoft SharePoint.


Zoho’s spreadsheet module mimics the interface and capabilities of desktop heavyweights. (Click image for full view.)
Compared with Google Docs, Zoho's interface is a pleasure to behold. Instead of being rudimentary, the design is elegant and intuitive, and far more closely than Google Docs, it resembles what most of us are used to from desktop applications.

A customizable dashboard lets you manage your entire workflow, and importing Word, Excel, and PowerPoint documents posed no problem. Even better, basic tasks like document editing, which can be a bit of a nightmare in Google Docs, have a functionality that is leaps and bounds ahead in Zoho. Documents we created there also worked in Microsoft Office without any issues.

Sharing and collaboration tasks also were easy, and for road warriors with spotty Internet access, we also really liked the fact that you can both view and edit your latest 25 documents offline, with automatic syncing with the online version once you're back online.

Occasional lags did crop up while using Zoho, but all in all it gives the impression of having most of today's bases covered. It stands out as a well-developed and very nicely designed offering.

Standards Supported:

  • Microsoft Office
  • Open Document Format
  • Office Open XML
  • PDF (Export)

Zoho’s presentation module includes a wide variety of attractive backgrounds. (Click image for full view.)
Unique Features:

  • Offline mode for your last 25 documents
  • Plug-in lets you create, edit, and save your documents and spreadsheets directly to Zoho from within Microsoft Word or Excel
  • Version for Microsoft SharePoint
  • Integration with Google Apps
  • Collaboration & mobile features
  • Nice user interface

Missing Pieces:

Zoho was by far our favorite of the online offerings we looked at. The only glitches we saw were slight lags on executing some commands. All in all, it doesn't seem to leave much to be desired.

Zoho Is Best For:

The package is beautifully suited to business users who need to collaborate or access documents while on the road. At the same time, it even integrates with Microsoft tools and Google Apps, and the offline capabilities could be very helpful. Users who never travel or collaborate would probably be fine with a desktop package, but anyone else would do well to consider Zoho.

Next page: Desktop productivity with robust tools and a low price

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