Test Center review: Office killers pack some heat
Cloud-based Google Docs and Zoho, as well as desktop-bound IBM Lotus Symphony and OpenOffice.org, put Microsoft's productivity suite on noticeFollow @infoworld
The verdict, then, is that OpenOffice.org is entirely capable of being the primary, or only, personal productivity suite used by an organization. There are two large caveats in this statement. First, the collaboration capabilities of OpenOffice.org are not on a par with those found in either Microsoft Office or Google Docs. It's not that two or more individuals can't collaborate on a document in OpenOffice.org; it's just that they'll have to bring in additional products or work harder to do it. Second, if you want to use business intelligence or other enterprise applications that depend on Excel macros, you can't run them directly in OpenOffice.org. With custom programming, you'll be able to do a great deal, but once again, you're looking at additional investment to make things work.
Zoho is, like Google Docs, a hosted, Web-based personal productivity suite. Like Google Docs, its ties to the Internet have been loosened by Google Gears. Unlike the more strictly limited Google Docs, though, Zoho has moved in the direction of a complete enterprise suite of applications, with CRM, human resources management, and other enterprise apps joining the personal productivity applications provided. Zoho has, by far, the broadest range of applications available among the four productivity suites examined in this article.
Zoho Writer (screen image) is an HTML-centric word processor that has interesting strengths coupled with unfortunate omissions. For business users, it is built for collaboration, with notes and history tied to Zoho's inherent capacity for sharing documents among work groups. It lacks mail merge, and the set of available fonts is limited, though not so constrained as that in Google Docs. Academic and research-oriented users will welcome the footnote and table of contents tools, along with the LaTex equation editor, but will be on their own for a bibliography.
As with Google Docs, users can build CSS for document formatting and tweak HTML code by toggling between text and code views. When it comes time to move your document to another system, Zoho Writer will export to a number of formats, including DOCX, Word, PDF, and LaTex.
Zoho's spreadsheet application, Sheet (screen image), has all the basic functions you need, including the ability to build and run VBA macros. When I imported a spreadsheet created in Excel, I found that basic formatting and equations moved across just fine, but cell size and text overlapping did not, making for a few minutes of cleanup. The interface for Sheet is similar to that of Writer, and it has a feel that I'll call slightly retro, but it will do pretty much anything you'd want in the average spreadsheet package – including making it easy for you to embed charts, graphics, and data ranges in Web pages. Sheet doesn't hook into the amazing range of widgets and Web publishing services you'll find in Google Docs, but it will give you a significant leg up on publishing your data to the Web.
The presentation creator within Zoho, Zoho Show, is a solid performer that makes it especially easy to include Web elements in a presentation, or to publish a presentation to the Web. Some of the integration is seen in small ways (like an option to pull images from Flickr to embed in a slide), while others are more obvious (such as the ability to directly edit HTML code for the slide). Zoho Show doesn't allow you to directly embed video and audio in a slide, though you could certainly link to any sort of multimedia content. In general, Show could be used to create slides for most business or academic purposes, and it's as old-school comfortable as the other applications in the Zoho suite.
Could Zoho be the primary personal productivity software for an enterprise? Possibly. If the organization we're talking about is a smallish, widely distributed group that needs to share information and collaborate, but doesn't want the expense of central collaboration services servers, then Zoho is perfect. It is good enough for many companies and can't be beat on its implementation of SaaS (software as a service) principles for the SMB market.
Read more about applications in InfoWorld's Applications Channel.