Office suites in the cloud: Microsoft Office Web Apps versus Google Docs and Zoho
Microsoft's fledgling Web-based productivity apps have one key advantage over SaaS rivals: amazing fidelity to the desktop-bound Word, Excel, and PowerPoint document formats
But most of us in the real world have given up on the "paperless office," and once your feet land back on the ground, Docs disappoints once again. In keeping with its Spartan feature set, printing is thoroughly mediocre. As already noted, Docs seldom gets pagination right, particularly where images come into play, and it thinks nothing of breaking a page midtable. Fonts that render correctly onscreen might not print, and graphics come out blurry and jaggy.
Joel Spolsky once wrote that the problem with lightweight office suites is that 80 percent of users need only 20 percent of the features of Microsoft Office, but it's a different 20 percent every time. Google Docs doesn't give you all of the features of Office and it doesn't try to. Unfortunately, in its present state it's missing so much that it's sure to lack something for just about everybody.
Zoho: A SaaS back office for small business
Zoho offers a slightly different take. While Google Docs presents a Spartan UI that emphasizes the online aspect of the suite, Zoho makes more of an effort to mimic the look and feel of traditional desktop applications. The results might seem more familiar to new users, but they also underscore the limitations of this strategy.
One problem is that Zoho's offering seems to have grown rapidly, with little thought to consistency. One application's menu might resemble a panel of buttons, while the next looks like tabs, and a third favors a drop-down layout. Icons and menus move around the toolbars from one app to the next. The spreadsheet's interface offers a choice of colored themes, but the other applications do not. A pull-down menu makes moving between applications simple enough, but the lack of a common UI undermines the illusion that this is an integrated suite.
Zoho has a few features that Google Docs lacks, but most are minor. For example, Google's word processor offers a robust equation editor based on the TeX language, but Zoho's equation editor is better. Zoho's thesaurus gives the part of speech for synonyms, while Google's does not. And Zoho allows you to insert HTML and CSS directly from files on the Web, rather than simply editing it in your browser as Google Docs allows you to do.
Like Google Docs, Zoho encourages Web-based publishing and collaboration. Here, Zoho's minor advantages include the ability to post to blogs directly using the MetaWebLog or Blogger APIs, the ability to generate a "doc roll" of recent documents for embedding in a Web site, and integration with EchoSign for digital signatures.