A spreadsheet in your browser? A word processor on the Web? These days, SaaS (software as a service) is all the rage, and the success of Web-based upstarts like Salesforce.com has sent vendors searching for ever more categories of software to bring online. If you believe Google, virtually all software will be Web-based soon -- and as if to prove it, Google now offers a complete suite of office productivity applications that run in your browser.
Google isn't the only one. A number of competitors are readying Web-based office suites of their own -- most prominently Zoho, but even Microsoft is getting in on the act. In addition to the typical features of desktop productivity suites, each offering promises greater integration with the Web, including collaboration and publishing features not available with traditional apps.
[ Looking for a way to benchmark Windows 7 versus Vista or XP? Check out OfficeBench 7, a cross-version test script that uses your existing installation of Microsoft Office to evaluate your PC's performance. | Read InfoWorld's first look at Microsoft Office 2010. ]
But how serious are they? Even with today's modern browsers, can browser-based apps truly substitute for Microsoft Office for real-world work? I decided to find out. Armed with a selection of demo documents and actual work from my own files, I put Google Docs, Zoho, and the Technical Preview version of Microsoft's Office Web Apps to the test. Predictably, the results were mostly a disappointment -- but my experience yielded unexpected surprises, as well.
Google Docs: Your desktop, online
No company is more jazzed about Web-based applications than Google, so you'd expect its suite to be the best, right? Wrong. In fact, the most amazing thing about Google Docs turned out to be just how woefully inadequate for serious work it actually is.
When you log in to Google Docs, you're greeted with a familiar, Google-style UI: spare, reserved, understated, even elegant. But while this trademark approach works wonders for Google's search products, with Google Docs it belies a paucity of features that's instantly frustrating.
[ If the table and screen images in this article don't display properly, read them in the original story at InfoWorld.com. ]
Web-based office suites at a glance
|Google Docs||Microsoft Office Web Apps||Zoho Writer, Sheet, Show|
|Cost||Free; $50 per user per year with Google Apps Premier Edition||Will be available free via Windows Live, at a cost TBD as a SharePoint-based service from Microsoft Online Services, and as part of Office 2010 volume license purchases||Free for 1GB; $3 per user per month for 5GB with Zoho Docs; other business subscriptions available|
|Web browsers supported||Google Chrome, Firefox 2+, Internet Explorer 6+, and Safari 3+ with some exceptions (more info)||Firefox 3.5+, Internet Explorer 7+, and Safari 4+||Firefox 2+ and Internet Explorer 6+ (more info)|
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