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
Zoho is slowly implementing more advanced features, too. Its spreadsheet offers rudimentary support for pivot tables and charts, while the word processor features a very basic mail-merge facility. Most remarkable, however, is the spreadsheet's elementary support for Visual Basic macros. I have to confess that when I saw some of my macros running automatically in the browser, I was stunned; still, other scripts failed with error messages.
All of these strengths aside, however, the overall problems with Zoho's applications are similar to those of Google Docs. While the suite is amazing as a Web-based curiosity and passable as a lightweight set of productivity applications, power users will be dismayed by its lack of sophisticated features and its halfhearted implementations of existing ones.
Zoho's support for Microsoft Office file formats is better than that of Google Docs, but only slightly. Page layout and image placement in the word processor are questionable, and revisions made using Track Changes get corrupted, just as in Google Docs. Support for Excel 2007 embedded graphs is a bit better than Google's, but the output is similarly disappointing. Imported presentations are reduced to static slideshows, losing their animated transitions. And as with Google Docs, printing is unreliable, particularly where fonts and images are concerned.
The beta status of Zoho's applications might also be an issue for some. I'd hardly call Google Docs bulletproof, but Zoho did seem to freeze up the browser more often (though a page reload would usually solve the problem).
Zoho's real strength lies not in the merits of its individual applications, however, but in its offering as a whole. In addition to its productivity suite, Zoho offers a whole range of back-office business applications, including groupware, conferencing, invoice management, project management, CRM, and more. Most are free for limited use with a modest amount of storage space; for increased capacity and a greater number of users, Zoho charges a per-head subscription fee.
As such, Zoho could appeal to small businesses who like the idea of a suite of a la carte business applications that don't require a dedicated IT staff to install and maintain. Although it seems unlikely that Zoho's online productivity apps will meet your needs as well as desktop software would, if the SaaS way of doing things is attractive to you, Zoho could be a cost-effective option that provides a wide range of business functionality with a minimum of hassle.
Zoho's support for Microsoft Office file formats (above) and Excel 2007 embedded graphs (below) is better than that of Google Docs, but only slightly. (Note: Click the images to enlarge them.)