We put Microsoft's Office Web Apps head-to-head with Google Docs and Zoho Office to see just which web-based office suite is best for you.
Google Docs: Your desktop, online
No company is more happy 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.
Just for starters, forget about a smooth migration away from Microsoft Office. Google added support for Office 2007 file formats in June, but so what?
Even with the older Office formats, Docs chokes on all but the most rudimentary formatting. I tried importing various real-world files from my archives - not mock-ups or demos, but actual work - and anything more complicated than a simple column of text came up distorted.
A demo file created in Word 2007 revealed just how many features Docs gets wrong. Tab stops, paragraph spacing, page margins, and placed images all move around indiscriminately. Curly quotes import properly, but that's actually a minus because there's no way to type them in Docs.
Revisions made using Word's Track Changes feature appear all jumbled together as plain text; ditto for Comments. Page headers and footers are converted to inline text at the top of the document - no surprise, because Docs doesn't even preserve pagination. Macros? Auto-update fields? Dream on.
A demo file created in Word 2007 reveals just how many features Google Docs gets wrong.
The same goes for Excel files. Basic figures and formulas import properly - which would be great if you were migrating from Lotus 1-2-3 - but don't expect much else.
Images are discarded, along with any formatting beyond simple cell sizing and shading. Charts embedded in Excel 2007 appear as big, white boxes labelled 'No Data'.
Charts embedded in Excel 2003 or earlier simply disappear. It's often possible to tweak the Excel 2007 charts by hand so that they draw from the right columns, but even then, Docs' graphing engine is mostly a toy. There's no support for features like trend lines, no formatting options, and the output is hardly presentation-ready.
Charts embedded in Excel 2007 appear as big, white boxes labeled 'No Data'.
NEXT PAGE: How Google Docs handles Powerpoint files