Category Archives: Spreadsheets

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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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

Microsoft Office Web Apps - Excel

An Intro to Microsoft Office Web Apps: Nice Interface, Needs Functionality

Introduction:
In the past few weeks, I’ve posted a few articles comparing several web-base word processing and spreadsheet applications.  For the word processors, I focused on Google Docs, Zoho Writer, ThinkFree, and Adobe Buzzword and for the spreadsheets; Google Docs, Zoho Sheet, ThinkFree, and Sheetster.   Based on my review, Zoho and ThinkFree were the best online word processors, and Zoho Sheet was the runaway winner for spreadsheets.

The one major provider that provides web-based productivity suites that I was not able to review was Microsoft.  At the time of my original postings, Microsoft had not fully released their versions of Microsoft Office Web AppsOffice Web Apps is Microsoft’s answer to the Google Docs, ThinkFree, and Zoho web-based office suites.   This post will provide a brief review of both the Word and Excel web-based applications.

Microsoft Office Web Apps - Excel

Microsoft Office Web Apps - Excel

The ‘Excel Web Apps’ Review:
The first tool I tried with Office Web Apps was Excel.  I uploaded the same test file that I used in the original web-based spreadsheet test I did a few weeks ago to  Microsoft’s data storage site (dubbed Skydrive) that doubles as the  access point to their web-based office suite.

To my surprise, the file would not even open!  This was definitely a significant negative to me.   All of the other programs (Google, ThinkFree, and Zoho) were able to at least load the file, even if all the functionality associated with the VBA macros and PivotTables that were included in the test file were not available.    I then went back and opened the file in my desktop version of Excel and removed both the macros and the PivotTables and tried again.  I was able to open the file.

After opening the file, I was pleasantly surprised out how nice the user’s interface was.  Microsoft did an excellent job at maintaining a consistent feel between their Office 2010 desktop and online versions.    For the most part, all of the basic functions worked well and were included within the program.   Most advanced features did not work in the online version of Excel.  The VLOOKUP tables did work well.

Pros: Great user interface consistent with desktop version, speed, drag-and-drop uploading through SkyDrive
Cons: Not able to import Excel files with advanced features, lack of advanced functionality, folder structure in SkyDrive

Microsoft Office Web Apps - Word

Microsoft Office Web Apps - Word

The ‘Word Web Apps’ Review:
When I tried the web-based Word application, I had similar feelings to those I had when reviewing the web-based Excel.  I uploaded the same test file that I used in the original web-based word processing test and started to review the document.

The test file imported well.  There were a couple of areas where the graphics were not justified correctly, but it was easy to fix that.  I liked how user interface had the same feel as the Office 2010 desktop version and was easy use.   Like the web-based Excel version, only basic functions were included within the web-based version.

Overall, I thought the web-based version of Word performed about the same as the other programs previously reviewed (Google Docs, Zoho, ThinkFree, Adobe), even though  it did not have all of the advanced functionality of some of the other programs.

Pros: Nice interface, easy upload, consistent import
Cons: Lack of advanced functionality, some graphical import problems.

In Summary:
I was pleasantly surprised with Microsoft Office Web Apps.  With a few tweaks and with the addition of some advanced features, I think it could easily outperform all of the other competitors.  One thing that I am not aware of is how the licensing works. I own versions of Office XP, 2003, and 2007 and did not have any problems accessing and creating files on SkyDrive.

I believe that web-based office suites are still in their infancy. If Microsoft is able to respond to customer’s demands, work out licensing issues that can compete with companies like Google and Zoho, and invest in more advanced features, I think they can still hold a large portion of the market for the foreseeable future.

Related Articles:
Get Ready for Microsoft Office 2010
Comparing Zoho, Google, Adobe, and ThinkFree Online Word Processors
A Brief Comparison of Online Spreadsheets

Zoho Spreadsheet

A Brief Comparison of Online Spreadsheets (and the winner is…Zoho!)

The Background

I recently conducted a test to see how several online spreadsheets handled advanced Microsoft Excel functions and features.   One of the key problems that I see in the use of online spreadsheets is their compatibility with advanced Microsoft Excel features (like Visual Basic for Applications macros, PivotTables, and Lookup Tables.)

Many people are so-called “power users” of Excel, myself being one of them.  If online spreadsheets are not able to 1) import existing Excel files or 2) recreate advanced Excel functionality, I believe there will be a long and potentially delayed adoption process.

For this test, I took a standard Excel 2003 spreadsheet that included a lookup table, PivotTable, and a simple Excel VBA macro.   You can download the file here.

I then imported the file into the following four online spreadsheet programs; Google Docs, ThinkFree, Zoho, and Sheetster.  I would have also tried the new Microsoft Web Apps, but it is not fully functional at this time.

The Results

Google Docs Spreadsheet

Google Docs Spreadsheet

Google Docs
I imported into Google Docs first.  In order to open the document, it had to be converted to Google’s format.  Once it was converted, all of the data imported fine and Google’s interface is nice and clean.

Of the three advanced features I imported, only of them worked properly – the Lookup Table.   The PivotTable imported only as text and the VBA Macros were non-existent.   This was pretty disappointing to me considering all the hype that has been present around Google Docs.  If Google Docs is not even able to import or support PivotTables or Macros, I don’t see myself switching to Google Docs anytime soon.

In Google’s defense, they do have several add-ons that could probably replicate PivotTables (I didn’t look into them) and you can create new customized macros using Java scripts.  The problem is – I don’t have time nor want to learn a new programming language to make all of my old Excel spreadsheets compatible with Google, it’s just too much work.

ThinkFree Spreadsheet

ThinkFree Spreadsheet

ThinkFree
ThinkFree has the most “Office-like” Excel feel of the four programs tested.  The drop down menus and file menu items are very similar in naming and appearance to that of Excel 2003.  This is very nice if you are migrating from Excel and are looking for something familiar.

Even though the user interface was probably the best of the four online spreadsheets, the functionality was really not much better than Google Docs.   The only advanced feature that worked was the Lookup Table.  Both the PivotTable and the VBA macros did not work – just like Google Docs.  In addition, ThinkFree was a little slow in loading.

Zoho Spreadsheet

Zoho Spreadsheet

Zoho
Of the four online programs, I liked Zoho the best.  It offered a feel that was intuitive and similar to Microsoft Excel 2003.   It wasn’t as similar as ThinkFree, but I don’t think anyone would have a problem figuring out how to use the program.

When I imported the Excel test file, I was pleasantly surprised to see a macro feature that was compatible with Excel VBA macros.   It was also nice to see that Zoho had functionality for PivotTable, which both ThinkFree and Google Docs did not.

Although Zoho had the most functions, it still was not a seamless import.   Although Zoho supports PivotTable functionality, it still did not bring them in automatically.  You basically had to create a new PivotTable and store it in a different worksheet.  It was not able to support PivotTables on the same worksheet as the data.   The VBA macros also worked well, but only for simple macros.  I noticed that it did not work well for VBA functions.

Sheetster Spreadsheet

Sheetster Spreadsheet

Sheetster
Sheetster was by far the least sophisticated of all of the online spreadsheets I evaluated as part of this test.   The user interface was really nothing special and it did not import any of the features well or even at all.   I think that Sheetster will be relinquished to a niche market that will only be used by a small population.

In Summary

Google Docs has a nice, clean user interface and a plethora of options, but lacked functionality.   ThinkFree offered the best user interface, but was not able to incorporate the advanced features.   Sheetster lacks the sophistication of the other three and is probably more for niche applications.   Microsoft Web Apps was not tested at this point because it has not been officially released.

Based on my experiences, the clear winner of the online spreadsheets is Zoho.  Although it did not have the best user interface, it still is easy to use, intuitive, and offers superior functionality for advanced applications over all of the other programs.   In addition, it was fast and has a growing user base.

Let me be clear though, I still think that all online spreadsheets have some catching up to do before they can truly compete with a desktop version of Excel…at least for now.

If anyone has other experiences with these programs, please leave a comment.  It would be great to have a discussion on this!

Related Posts:
Online Alternatives to Microsoft Office

OpenOffice.org

Using OpenOffice.org for Office Productivity

OpenOffice.orgIn our last post, I discussed what open source software is.  In this post I want to provide a little more information on OpenOffice.org, an open source office productivity suite.

What is it?
OpenOffice.org  is an open source office productivity suite originally financed by Sun Microsystems (now Oracle).  It consists of the following applications:

Writer – A word processing application (similar to Microsoft Word)
Calc – A spreadsheet application (similar to Microsoft Excel)
Base – A database application (similar to Microsoft Access)
Impress – A presentation application (similar to Microsoft PowerPoint)
Draw – A graphics editor program
Math – A mathematical formula creation tool

Why Use it?
One of the main benefits to using OpenOffice.org is that it is free.  It is also an excellent way to support the open source movement and allow other software applications to compete the office productivity market.  In addition, it is a robust office suite that is able to run on multiple operating systems, supports OpenDocument format, and for most applications is backward compatible with Microsoft Office products.  One drawback is its compatibility with Microsoft Office applications that have Visual Basic for Applications (VBA) macros – I have had little success using Microsoft VBA macros in OpenOffice.org.  You can read more about this on their website.

How do You Get it?
OpenOffice.org is available for free from their download website.  You can find training and tutorials on the web.  A few good sites include:

OpenOffice.org Training, Tips, & Ideas
OpenOffice.org Tutorials

[Image Source:  OpenOffice.org website]

Office 2010

Get Ready for Microsoft Office 2010

Office 2010

Source: Microsoft

Last year Microsoft announced they will be releasing the latest version of Office, aptly named Office 2010,  in mid-2010.   I have not found a firm date, but some sites have suggested it will be released around May or June.The layout of Office 2010 will be similar to that of Office 2007.  Some of the new key features that will be incorporated into the latest version include:

– The ‘Ribbon’ has been modified to be more intuitive and easier to use
– Enhanced integration with Microsoft’s SkyDrive web site.
– Increased image editing capabilities within the Office applications
– Enhanced social media connectivity and collaboration tools

Rumors also have been floating that Microsoft will offer free online versions of Excel, Word, and PowerPoint through Microsoft’s Live Office website to compete with other online programs like Zoho and Google Docs.   I’m skeptical about this since I have not seen anything from Microsoft that can compete with Zoho and Google’s strictly 100% online applications – they may be possibly waiting to release access to this until Office 2010 is officially released.

Other changes include the addition of Office 2010 Starter to replace Microsoft Works and a new mobile version of Office 2010.

Screenshots of Office 2010 can be found on the CNET website.   Microsoft has also released a beta version to the public which can be downloaded from their site.

Sources:  Microsoft.com, Wikipedia.org, CNET.com

Tech Primer: Using Microsoft Excel Filters

Microsoft Excel filters are a wonderful way to access data that are stored in data lists.   They effectively allow the user to hide rows of data that do not meet  a specific user-defined criteria.   I used filters quite often when comparing data sets that have multiple column headings.

As a result of the Microsoft Office redesign that occurred with Office 2007, the application of filters is slightly different between Excel 2000/XP/2003 and Excel 2007.   Below are descriptions on how to implement them in both Excel 2003 and Excel 2007.

Implementing Filters in Excel 2000/XP/2003

Step 1: Highlight the column headings and go to Data>Filter>AutoFilter. Ensure that the AutoFilter text is checked.   Notice that the column headings now have drop down boxes associated with them.

Step 2: To filter, choose the drop-down bar from the desired column heading. Notice that the drop-down box has several choices that match the row values.  To filter, just choose the desired value.  Rows that do not match the chosen value are automatically hidden.

A more detailed description of the use of filters in Excel 2003 can be found here.

Implementing Filters in Excel 2007:

Step 1: Highlight the column headings and choose Data on the ribbon.  Click the Filter icon and ensure that it is selected.  At this point you should see drop-down bars on your column headings.

Excel 2007 - Filters

Step 2: To filter, choose the drop-down bar from the desired column  heading.  Choose the desired values that you wish to filter by.  Rows that do not match the chosen values are automatically hidden.

Excel 2007 - Filters