The concept has been around for decades now, in fact ever since the very birth of the Internet itself. One day online web services would take over from OS-bound conventional desktop software and we would have access to all our data from anywhere and at anytime.
As of yet no application has successfully bridged the gap between power and performance and connectivity and synchronization. Office Live makes some attempt at this but I personally find it far too slow and buggy to use. The biggest downside for Office Live is that most end users simply don’t need the high end features that it provides. I love the new Office Interface, but when will I ever use mail merge or functions like it?
For many of us we just need simple tools, and I’ll show you the best online services currently available which you can use in conjunction with, or as a replacement for Microsoft Office.
- Google Docs
Word Processor | Presentations | Spreadsheets
I think Google Docs is an amazing service, I love the fact that in many ways it really isn’t an Office alternative and doesn’t try to be. You’ll see the other services here are trying to provide a complete Office replacement in terms of features and power but Google has just created a service which just provides the features most users will need and makes it incredibly simple to share and collaborate with other users.
In fact in many cases I just Docs it as a glorified note-taker, but who cares? It’s free, fast and perfect for working on documents with someone else. It also supports Office file formats as well as Open Documents and can import and export to the desktop.
You’ll need a Gmail account, an Open ID (includes Yahoo ID) in order to use Google Docs, but since most people should have either a Gmail account or Yahoo address already this shouldn’t be a problem. If not, you’ll just have to register for one, but that shouldn’t be too much of a problem, right?
Features are added regularly based upon user feedback. I have found myself using it more and more lately as I move between places like work, home and university and need to quickly keep documents accessible from all locations.
If you worry about not being able to access your files when not connected to the Internet then you can use Google Gears to access Docs from the desktop when you are offline. The official Gear site supports Firefox and Internet Explorer, but you will need to go here to get a modified plugin for Flock.
Daniel did a great article recently where he shows how you can use CSS to style your documents, Google Docs doesn’t have many formatting options so it might be worthwhile to give this a go.
Word Processor | Presentations | Spreadsheets | Collaboration | Financial | Management | Recruiting | Wiki | Web Applications
Zoho has just about every office application you’ll ever need (over a dozen), and along with Google Docs has become one of the most popular online office suites. In fact recently the decision was made to allow anyone with a Google account to access Zoho. It may seem a strange decision considering the two could be competitors but as I said before, the two have somewhat different focuses. Zoho as a Office replacement, Google Docs can be used in conjunction.
Most of the services are free, but some features such as the Zoho Payments and the CRM, payment is required after a certain number of projects have been completed.
Word Processor | PDF creator| Collaboration | File Manager
Adobe has its own set of free web applications at Acrobat.com which provide some very useful tools for office productivity. The tools include Buzzword, a word processor, ConnectNow for collaboration, Create PDF, Share Files and My Files, the document manager.
Essentially Acrobat.com isn’t actually a complete office suite as it doesn’t have a presentation or spreadsheet programs, however if you would like a well designed, fully featured online word processor and PDF creator then Adobe Buzzword is absolutely perfect.
- ThinkFree Online
Word Processor | Presentations | Spreadsheets
I hate one thing about Thinkfree. It has a sidebar of ads extending down the right hand side of the page. It may seem like no biggie considering we are constantly bombarded by advertising every day we step out of bed, but to me some things shouldn’t be intruded upon and I hate to see advertising right up there alongside my documents.
That aside the service itself is great, and really pushes the boundaries of what a web based service can be expected to do. In fact look at the screen-shot alone you would be surprised to know this is in fact entirely a web based application.
Built upon Ajax and mimicking the Office user interface, ThinkFree provides the capabilities of group editing and collaboration and the publishing of documents directly to webpages and blogs. However, unless you upgrade to the premium version, you cannot access documents offline although you can still use the import and export features.
The premium version also provides synchronization functions, removes the advertising, and increases the 1 gigabyte storage allowance.
There you are. The four most famous and widely used online office suites. Which one do you think is the best, or is your favorite?