Category Archives: Office Suites

Comparing Online Office Suites: Google Docs vs. Zoho Office

Moving your Office to the Cloud Cloud and web-based office productivity programs offer several advantages over traditional desktop software office productivity programs like Microsoft Office and OpenOffice.org. As high-speed internet become more ubiquitous and IT departments have become more aware of the cost savings and benefits that cloud based office productivity suites provide, more and more businesses and everyday users are ditching the desktop software and trying web-based programs. Several are several reasons to choose web-based programs over desktop applications. Three main reasons include:

  • Lower costs
  • Lower maintenance
  • Better backup capabilities and version control

When you move your office to the cloud, you are basically outsourcing the tedious technical work that goes along with maintaining desktop software programs and file version control. There are drawbacks associated with cloud based office programs. The disadvantages include:

  • A loss of control of your critical files
  • Risk that your hosting service will go down
  • Potential security issues
  • Less robust application abilities

It is up to the user (or IT department) to determine if the benefits outweigh the disadvantages of cloud based office programs. As part of this hub, I will compare and contrast two popular cloud-based office productivity programs; Google Docs and Zoho Office Suite. There are other players on the market also, including Microsoft Skydrive, Adobe, and ThinkFree. You can find reviews of the spreadsheet and word processor reviews of these and other cloud based office programs at the following articles, A Brief Comparison of Online Spreadsheets and Comparing Zoho, Google, Adobe, and ThinkFree Word Processors.

An Overview of Google Docs and Zoho Office
I chose to compare Google Docs and the Zoho Office Suite for this hub because I think they offer the best online office suites on the market today. I will say that that could change this year as Microsoft continues to pour more marketing and product development dollars into their SkyDrive office suite and cloud storage application.

Zoho Spreadsheet

Zoho Spreadsheet

Both Google Docs and Zoho offer spreadsheet, word processor, and presentation applications – the bread and butter of all office suites. I like the way that both work, although for users that are used to a traditional Windows style environment, Zoho is probably a better choice. Google Docs has a little different style of user interface. Long-time users of Google products should have no real problem using it though because it shares the same user interface style as all of their other products (like Gmail, Reader, etc.) In addition to the traditional office suite offerings, Google Docs also offers aForm application, which allows users to create web-based forms, and aDrawing application, which has similar functionality to Microsoft’s legacy image editing program, Paint, but also allows you to create equations and things like flowcharts. Google Docs also offers a beta product, Table, that allows users to transform data sets into unique tables and graphics.

Google Docs Spreadsheet

Zoho offers a Planner application, which allows users to create notes and To-Do lists, and a Notebook application that serves as a repository for images, links, RSS feeds, and notes. All of these items are included within the free version of Zoho Office. In addition, Zoho also offers their database application, called Creator, as part of their Business suite. I believe the free version allows for some functionality but it costs additional money to get the full blown version. I should also mention that both Google and Zoho offer more products for a cost than what I have just listed, including CRM, email, chat, and other business services. I have chosen not to discuss them in this hub because I instead wanted to focus on the typical free office productivity tools that are most commonly used.

Comparing Google Docs and Zoho Office Overall, I feel both products have their strengths and weaknesses. I use them both for different purposes. Google Docs is faster, cleaner, and integrates better with users that are heavily involved with Google products. Zoho Office is a more traditional office suite that has a nice array of products, a great Dashboard, and integrates with Microsoft Office better than Google does. Below is a summary of each of the products strengths and weaknesses: Google Docs Strengths:

  • Fast applications
  • Great sharing capabilities
  • Integrated nicely with other products for existing Google users
  • Unique functionality with Form, Drawing, and Table applications

Google Docs Weaknesses:

  • Does not import Microsoft Office documents seamlessly
  • No support for advanced Microsoft Office functions
  • Limited offline access for documents

Zoho Office Strengths:

  • Full suite of programs including Database and Planner functions
  • Integration with the wider Zoho Collaboration and Business applications
  • Support for advanced Microsoft Office functions (included limited VBA)

Zoho Office Weaknesses:

  • Slower than other online office suites
  • Sharing capabilities are not as robust as Google Docs
  • Does not have as large of user base as Google or Microsoft

Google Docs vs. Zoho Office

Functionality
Google Docs
Zoho Office
Spreadsheet
Spreadsheet
Zoho Sheet
Word Processor
Document
Zoho Writer
Presentation
Presentation
Zoho Show
Image Editing
Drawing
[Not Available]
Forms
Form
[Not Available]
Calendar
Calendar
Zoho Calendar
Planner
[Not Available]
Zoho Planner
Notebook
[Not Available]
Zoho Notebook
Database
[Not Available]
Zoho Creator
In Conclusion:
In summary, web based office productivity suites are becoming more popular because of the many advantages they offer over traditional desktop applications. Two online office suites, Google Docs and Zoho Office offer great benefits and user interfaces when compared to desktop office applications. These two programs are leaders in online office suite market, but several other products are competing for the up and coming online office productivity market, including Microsoft SkyDrive, ThinkFree, Sheetster, and LiveOffice. Please let me know your experience with online office suites in the comments section.
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Tech Primer: An Introductory Guide to Google Docs

Introduction:

This post will be the first in a series of post on using Google Docs and its new interface.  As I’ve written about on several different posts including ones on collaboration, integration, and usability, Google Docs is one of the leading cloud based office productivity suites on the market.

It offers many features and strengths over its competitors, including fast processing times, sharing and collaboration capabilities, and a large base of existing users.  This introductory guide will provide an overview of the user interface for new users of Google Docs

Accessing Google Docs:

In order to unlock the power of Google Docs, you must first have set up a Google Account (unless you already have one).  You can set up an account by going to www.google.com and clicking on “sign in” in the upper right hand corner.  Google will then ask for information and an account will be set up for you.  This account will allow you to not only access Google Docs but will also allow you to access the numerous other Google products that they have.

Once you have an account set up, you can go to docs.google.com to start using your new Google Docs account.   When you arrive at the Google Docs homepage you will see a screen that looks similar to the one shown in the image below.

Google Docs Main Interface

Navigating the User Interface:

I really like the user interface.  It is clean, intuitive and easy to navigate around.  For user that have used Google Docs in the past but have not used it recently the interface probably looks different.  Google recently conducted an overhaul of all their services’ interfaces to become more uniform.

Moving around the user interface is intuitive and easy to learn.   In the main body of the interface are the files that have stored in your account. The main interface is housed within the traditional Google interface with the search box located at the top and the Google ribbon included at the very top of the screen.  In the screenshot above, you can see that I have two files in my Google Docs cloud storage, one spreadsheet and one document.

On the left hand side of the user interface are two red buttons – one that allows you to create a new file (CREATE) within Google Docs and an upload button that allows the user to upload other external files (like Microsoft Office files, Adobe PDF files, or image files).  I’ve had good success with uploading different file types.

Google Docs using a file management system that is based on tags and collections.  It does not use a traditional folder style file structure like that used by Microsoft or other software companies.   This can take some getting used to but for long time Google users or users that have Gmail accounts, it shouldn’t be much a problem. The file filters are shown on the left hand side of the screen.  Google Docs allows you to filter by owner, starred items, or by user-defined collections.

In the upper right hand corner above the main body there are two other buttons – the ‘Sort’ button and the ‘Settings’ button (that looks like a gadget or bolt.)   The ‘Sort’ button allows the user to sort files by priority, time, size, and owner.  The “Settings” button allows the user to change things like the display and time settings.

Productivity Programs of Google Docs:

The Google Docs suite consists of the following programs:

– Document
– Presentation
– Spreadsheet
– Form
– Table
– Drawing

The mostly wide used of the programs; Documents, Presentations, and Spreadsheets, provide intuitive interfaces and resemble that of other office desktop and web-based suites, (such as Microsoft Office, Zoho Office Suite, or OpenOffice).  The other programs; Forms, Tables, and Drawings are powerful tools that provide users with other useful functionality that can be integrated within the other programs.

Below is a screenshot of what a Google Docs spreadsheet looks like.   I will be providing more detailed posts on how to use each of the Programs of Google Docs.

Google Docs Spreadsheet

Google Docs Spreadsheet

Sharing Capabilities:

One of the great strengths of Google Docs is its sharing capabilities.  Since Google Docs is a cloud-based SaaS program, it is a naturally strong program for sharing and collaborating on the web.  Each of the programs within Google Docs allows the owner of the document to share the spreadsheet with other users.

Google Docs Sharing Window

Google Docs Sharing Window

Google Docs allows 3 sharing settings; 1) Public on the Web, 2) Anyone with the Link, and 3) Private.  “Public on the Web” allows for the most openness as anyone can search and find documents with this setting.  “Anyone with Link” allows additional control over who can view the documents by not allowing it to be searchable over the web.  “Private” allows the most control – only those users that the owner has granted permission to use are allowed to view or edit the document.

Google Docs Sharing Options

Google Docs Sharing Options

In Conclusion:

Setting up a Google Docs account is easy to do and provides a powerful and free office suite.  For long-time Google users, the transition to using Google Docs should be simple and easy.  For long-term Microsoft Office users, there may be a little bit more of a learning curve due to the unique file management structure and different user interface.

Overall, I find Google Docs to be a powerful tool that everyone should look into.  I’m quite impressed with it sharing options and responsiveness. Although Google Docs is not the only cloud-based office productivity suite on the market, it is one of the leaders.

Stay tuned for additional posts on how to use the programs within the Google Docs suite!

For more information, visit the following posts:

Comparing Cloud-Based spreadsheets
Comparing Cloud-Based word processors
Collaborating with Google Docs

Microsoft Announces Updates to SkyDrive Cloud Storage Site

Introduction:
Microsoft recently announced a series of enhancements to SkyDrive, their web-based cloud file storage service.   This is another step in the right direction for Microsoft as they try to gain market share in the cloud-based file storage and web applications arena. Some of the recent improvements announced include:

Better sharing capabilities:
This is one area that was always a little clunky for SkyDrive.  Before, you were forced to place the files you wish to share within a folder that was “shared” and open for public viewing.   In addition, it was difficult for users to share files with other people who were outside of the Microsoft ecosystem.

With the new improvements, both of these issues are addressed by allowing files to be shared individually from any folder (instead of only from a “shared” folder) and with other users through several different methods (email, links, and social networks).  As stated on their blog, Microsoft is hoping to create a more “app-centric” experience.

More User Friendly File Management
File management in SkyDrive has not been their strong point.  In comparison to other cloud-based services like Google DocsBox, and Zoho, the SkyDrive user interface has been underwhelming.    These most recent updates hope to address some of those issues.

Some of the added file management functionality include:

  • The ability to change file and folder names inline
  • Move, delete and download multiple files
  • Move and Copy folders and files more easily
  • The addition of right-click functionality for photos and documents
  • Faster creation of Office Web Apps files.

Enhanced User Experience
In addition to the improvements to sharing and file management, Microsoft also made some additional changes to increase the overall speed and user experience for SkyDrive.  Some of the other improvements include:

  • Better browser support for FireFox, Chrome, and Safari
  • Ability to read other file types (PDF, RAW, etc.)
  • Enhanced photo editing

In Conclusion
All of these improvements I think show that Microsoft recognizes that the future is in the cloud.  Even with these improvements, I still think they have a way to go to catch up with other services like Box and Google.

The good news for them is that cloud-based file storage is still in its infancy and they stand to grab a huge market share of enterprise users who currently use products like SharePoint and Office.  As businesses slowly move to the cloud, Microsoft will be in a position to gather a large portion of those customers that wish to keep continuity in their products.

We’ll be watching to see where SkyDrive end up in the cloud computing race.

-TW

Collaborating with Google Docs

One of the very useful features of Google Docs is the ability to effortlessly share files and collaborate in real-time.  In my tests,  I feel that Google Docs offers the best functionality for sharing.   Microsoft Skydrive has only limited sharing abilities and Zoho Office only has the ability to share with other Zoho users.  Google Docs offers sharing and collaboration with both registered and unregistered users which is a plus.  With Google Docs you have three sharing options available 1) Public, 2) Anyone with Link, and 3) Private.

The “Anyone with Link” option is provides the user with a the link that can be sent out to all other collaborators regardless of whether or not they are registered or not.  Under this configuration, each  user has a different color scheme is labeled with a name like “anonymous9001”.  To setup the “Anyone with link” option, a file must be created and then the  “File>Share” menu option must be chosen. Under the “Who has Access” box, the top line allows you to change the classification.  After you have changed the status, a URL link appears at the top. This link is what you will send to everyone that you wish to collaborate with.

The “Private” option requires a google account and then lists the people’s names that are editing.  The only difference between the “Private” and the “Anyone With Link” option is the naming convention for the collaboration colors.  Instead of showing up as “anonymous_xxx”, the user will show up as their Google account name.  The “Public” Option allows anyone to view the document, but does not allow anyone to edit it.

Overall, I feel that Google offers a great collaboration product.   Its sharing features offer superior flexibility for those wishing to collaborate.

-TW

Organizing Your Online Life with the Zoho Dashboard

As many readers know, I’ve talked about the Zoho Office Suite several times here at Techjotter and am a big fan of their service.   In this post, I want to discuss the Zoho Mail Dashboard and how it integrates with the rest of the Zoho Office suite (or other office suites for that matter.)

First, I want to provide a little bit of background about how I manage all of my online services.   I don’t think that I am unlike a lot of people who like to use several services at the same time.   Currently, I have at least 2 email accounts (personal & Techjotter), 2 online file storage systems, an online calendar system, an RSS reader, and several other websites I check on a periodic basis.

A lot of my online life revolves around Google products (Reader, Finance), but I also use several other company’s products, such as Yahoo, Twitter, WordPress, and Zoho.   The big question is how to get all of these services grouped into one area that doesn’t involve a lot of clicking and shifting between browser windows.  What has been working well for me is the Zoho Mail dashboard.

Zoho Mail

Some of the benefits that I believe put Zoho Mail above Google for example include the following:

– A clean and easy to use interface

– Access to the full Zoho Office Suite from the Zoho Mail interface with one click

– Access to multiple email accounts within one browser window

– Ability to customize and hide (if desired) the apps bar

– Ability to add non-Zoho products to the apps bar and have them open within the main Zoho Mail interface

The last item I think is the item that sold me on using Zoho over Google.   Google also has a very nice and clean user interface, but I found that it only works well if you only use Google products.   If you wish to use anything outside of Google (such as Yahoo or Twitter), then you basically have to go to different apps or open new browser windows.

A good example of this is how I can access and use my Box.net within the Zoho Dashboard, as shown in the picture below.   I can even edit files using Google Docs within the Zoho Dashboard.

Zoho Mail and Box.net

Don’t get me wrong, I am still a big fan of Google and I still use their products extensively.   But if you are looking for an online program that can serve as an easy gateway to several different programs, I would consider looking into Zoho.

-TW

Google Docs now Integrated within Box.net

One of my favorite cloud file storage systems, Box.net, recently added the ability to edit files through Google Docs.  This is a great feature that sets Box.net apart from several of its competitors.   Of the online file systems that I have uses (Dropbox, SugarSync, ZumoDrive, Box.net), Box.net offers the best overall features for editing files.   In addition to having the ability to use Google Docs for editing, Box.net also offers the option to edit files using Zoho Office.  The editing capabilities were fast and efficient when I used Google Docs.

I really like how Box.net continues to expand its platform and continues to make it more user friendly.    Google Docs is part of the Box Apps ecosystem, which is continuing to expand its offerings.  In addition to Google Docs and Zoho, they offer apps that integrate with several popular cloud and social services, such as LinkedIn, Salesforce.com, and eFax.

Overall I continue to be impressed with Box.net’s expanding functionality.   I would recommend that people try out Box.net if they have not already.   The user experience is nice and the apps ecosystem is a nice feature that most other online file storage systems do not offer.

For a better understanding of how it works, check out the video below from Box.net’s YouTube page.

Additional Review of Sheetster Online Spreadsheet

Sheetster Online SpreadsheetRecently, I conducted a review of several online spreadsheets here at TechJotter.  One of the online spreadsheets that I reviewed was Sheetster.   I had stated that Sheetster did not have as many features as some of the other “mainstream” online spreadsheets like Google Docs, Zoho, and ThinkFree.

I have since then traded a few emails with Sheetster staff and have gained a bit more information about the program.  I still believe it is a niche product, but it does offer some nice features over the mainstream products.

Some of the main advantages of Sheetster include:

  • It is an open source alternative to SharePoint and Google docs.
  • It can be run offline or online
  • It can be hosted on your own servers, instead of large remote data centers
  • You have more control of your data and the security of your data
  • It is highly customizable through the use of java (and other programming languages)

Extentech, the developers of Sheetster, have provided good information on their website.  A comparison of Sheetster to Google Docs and Microsoft can also be found here.

After doing additional research on the product, Sheetster fills a need that none of the other online programs meet – a highly customizable product that offers greater control over your data and security.  Extentech also seems to have a good community built around the product and the staff was very helpful and provided me with a lot of good information over email.

I still feel that Sheetster is a niche product.  It is not as easy to use or as recognizable as Google Docs, Microsoft Web Apps, or Zoho and requires additional knowledge to be able to unlock all of its features.  It also does not offer as many built-in advanced spreadsheet features (like PivotTables or Macros).

If anyone is looking for a customizable spreadsheet application where security and/or control of your data are important, I would recommend doing some research into Sheetster.

Related Posts:
Comparing Zoho, Google, Adobe, & ThinkFree Online Word Processors
A Brief Comparison of Online Spreadsheets
Online Alternatives to Microsoft Office