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The Cloud, Day 5: Taking a Look at Zoho Docs

Today's 30 Days With the Cloud is focused on exploring Zoho to see how it stacks up against Google Docs and Microsoft Office Web apps.

30 Days With the Cloud: Day 5

Today continues my quest to choose an online productivity suite. Yesterday I checked out Google Docs, and today I am exploring the features and capabilities of Zoho Docs to see how it stacks up. Let's get to it.

User Interface

The tools and menus on Zoho Writer aren't what I am used to with Office 2010, but they are still familiar. Zoho seems to be a close replica of the Office 2003 era menus and interface. Zoho also brings some unique formatting aspects to the mix that are pretty cool. I definitely like the look and feel of Zoho more than that of Google Docs.

File Storage

This is an area that Zoho seems to nickel and dime in. Zoho offers the same 1GB of storage space as Google, but without the caveats that Google provides. With Zoho, it seems like 1GB really means 1GB, and after that you have to sign up for one of the subscription models to get extra storage capacity.

Alternatively, though, you can use the 5GB of free space that Box offers and use the integration with Zoho to work on files from there.

Compatibility

The good news with Zoho is that it is capable of saving / exporting files in the current Office file formats--DOCX instead of DOC, XLSX instead of XLS, etc.. The bad news is that it isn't any better than Google at maintaining consistent formatting and file fidelity for Microsoft Office files.

Like Google, Zoho is sufficient for working with Microsoft Office files with basic formatting and functionality, but any files that rely on more advanced features will most likely get lost in translation.

Sharing and Collaboration

Zoho does online sharing and collaboration for its tools very similar to what Google has to offer. Zoho doesn't seem to be as robust in terms of real-time capabilities, though. I tried to work on the same file from my PC and my iPad at the same time, and it seemed like I needed to manually refresh the screens to get updates to show up. The issue may be a function of the fact that I was logged in as me on both devices simultaneously. Perhaps it works different / better for two or more distinctly different users.

Mobile

The Zoho tools perform admirably on both my iPad 2, and my Motorola Xoom tablets. Using Zoho on the tablets is essentially the same experience as using it from a PC.

When I go to Zoho.com from my iPhone 4S and sign in, it redirects me to a mobile version of the site. But, the mobile version looks good, and provides a clean, simple interface to navigate from the smaller display of a smartphone. In terms of functionality, I can create new documents just fine, but when it comes to existing files I was only able to open them. I tapped all over and couldn't get the virtual keyboard to pop up so I could edit the contents.

I have to say that for a set of tools that aren't from either of the big guns--Microsoft and Google--the Zoho suite of online productivity tools are impressive. There is a lot to like about Zoho.

Tomorrow, I will weigh the merits of Microsoft Office Web apps, and then I can determine which of these three online productivity platforms to use for the remainder of the 30 Days With the Cloud series.

Read the Last "30 Days" series: 30 Days With Windows Phone 7

Day 4: Checking Out Google Docs

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