Online word processors
Google, Zoho and ThinkFree offer the only truly collaborative online office suites, with word-processing applications at their centre. Google combined Writely, an online Ajax-enhanced word processor it bought last spring, with its online Spreadsheets to create Google Docs & Spreadsheets. Ajax is a technique used to make web pages interactive and often 'live', meaning that changes display without reloading the page.
Zoho, meanwhile, unites logins for its online Ajax-based spreadsheet, word-processing and presentation software, and will soon offer them as a complete suite called ZohoX. It'll be free for individuals.
Each of these web suites offers significant functionality, but none will allow you to back up all of your files at once or store copies at a third-party site. You may therefore want to keep a local copy of each document in case the service goes down or you find yourself without a web connection.
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Zoho Writer - Recommended
Zoho Writer features a hideable list of documents – separated into private, shared and public documents – plus templates. As with Google Docs and ThinkFree, Zoho Writer can publish directly to a blog and it can save and import a range of text document formats, from Microsoft Word to HTML. A plug-in for Microsoft Word allows you to save to and from that application to your Zoho account.
Zoho includes most of the word-processing features you'd expect, including multiple undo, find-and-replace and extensive text formatting. You can edit the HTML of a document, but the feature is so hidden you must use the search box to find it.
Beating both Google and ThinkFree overall, Zoho handles multiple documents in a single window via tabs and lets you embed a Zoho spreadsheet in a Writer document. Modifying the spreadsheet automatically updates the Writer files.
Zoho also offers a version of its software that runs on your own server; it's free for up to 10 users. This may alleviate security concerns about hosting sensitive business documents outside the office firewall.
Google Docs & Spreadsheets The new face of Writely has a clean, sterile, blue-and-white interface with a single row of icons across the top of the text window. Strong points include automatic versioning and easy access to HTML code. You can upload documents via email and, if you and a colleague collaborate on the same document, changes made on either system immediately appear on the other.
The most common word-processing functions are here, but Google Docs & Spreadsheets has no built-in functions for text search or find-and-replace. Also multiple documents appear as separate web pages rather than side by side.
Recently ThinkFree announced a beta version of its office software that enables users to work offline or online for $7 (£3.50) a month. We like the fact that ThinkFree is available as both a light version (hardly worth bothering with) and a Java-based power editor that looks and feels like a full-blown desktop application.
You need a large Java applet to run this worthwhile application, but it supports almost every feature in Microsoft Word, including AutoCorrect. However, ThinkFree gives no way to open multiple documents or to simultaneously collaborate with a colleague when editing a document.
Zoho Writer is our favourite online office software