We put Microsoft's Office Web Apps head-to-head against Google Docs and Zoho Office to see just which web-based office suite is best for you.
Zoho: A SaaS back office for small business
Zoho offers a slightly different take. While Google Docs presents a Spartan UI that emphasises 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 coloured 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 website, and integration with EchoSign for digital signatures.
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.
Page layout and image placement are questionable in Zoho's word processor.
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