Office suites in the cloud: Microsoft Office Web Apps versus Google Docs and Zoho


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 Web site, 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. Support for Excel 2007 embedded graphs is a bit better than Google's, but the output is similarly disappointing. Imported presentations are reduced to static slideshows, losing their animated transitions. And as with Google Docs, printing is unreliable, particularly where fonts and images are concerned.

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