Category Archives: Word Processers

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

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Google Docs Word Processor

Comparing Zoho, Google, Adobe, and ThinkFree Online Word Processors

Some Background

Online office tools are rapidly gaining popularity as an alternative to traditional desktop office productivity tools such as Microsoft Office.  In my last post, I compared several popular online spreadsheet programs.  For this post, I focused on reviewing online word processors.

There are several online word processors available on the market today.  For this comparison, I focused on 4 of the more popular online word processors; Google Docs, ThinkFree Office, Adobe Buzzword, and Zoho Writer.

The main focus of this comparison was to see how each of the online word processors were able to import a small Microsoft Word document that included some advanced items like headers and footers, graphics, and bullets and formatting.  You can download the file that was tested here.

For the comparison, I looked at the following word processing elements:

  • Header/Footers
  • Fonts
  • Paragraphs and Spacing
  • Bullets/Formatting
  • Graphics
  • User Interface
  • Support of Advanced Features

The sections below describe the findings of my comparison:

The Comparison

Google Docs:
Google is the 800 pound gorilla of the online office suites.  I think this is mainly based on the pure size of Google’s user base though, because I

Google Docs Word Processor

Google Docs Word Processor

don’t really feel like they have the best product.   Overall, the Word document that I imported did reasonably well.

Some of the problems I saw with the import to Google included only a partial import of the header and footers, image editing that was not as seamless or robust as the other programs, a user interface that was just average and did not include a large amount of features, and a lack of support for advanced Microsoft Word features like VBA, mail merges, and reviewing.

On the positive note, Google Docs did a good job importing the fonts, formatting, and bullets.  They also offer some additional features that are not found in the other programs like the ability to create JavaScript macros as well as translation functions.

Overall Grade: B-
Brief Quote: “Average import and user interface with some advanced features, but still feels like it’s a few years off from catching Microsoft Office”

ThinkFree Office
ThinkFree offers the most Office-like feel for a program (as was the case in the online spreadsheet comparison) and is what I believe to be the

ThinkFree Word Processor

ThinkFree Word Processor

most intuitive for users of Microsoft products.

ThinkFree did an excellent job importing the fonts, paragraphs, bullets, and graphics.  They also did the best in importing the header and footer formatting that was included with the Word document.   The user interface was very intuitive and offered several nice features, including a drop-down zoom button, good graphic editing capabilities, and a very intuitive feel for the menu file drop-down buttons.

Where ThinkFree lacked was in its advanced word processing abilities.  From what I could tell, ThinkFree did not have the ability to create mail merges, conduct reviews, or create any kind of macros.  The program is also very slow.

Overall, I feel that ThinkFree offers the best interface for standard word processing documents, but falls short when it comes to advanced features.

Overall Grade: B+
Brief Quote: “Most Office-like with best import, but is slow and lacks advanced features”

Adobe Buzzword
I actually wasn’t even aware that Adobe had an online word processor until I started to do research for this post.   I’m not sure how long it has

Adobe Buzzword Word Processor

Adobe Buzzword Word Processor

been around, but I was pleasantly surprised with its features.

Overall, I would say that Buzzword is further behind than all the other online word processors, but they still offer a very nice, albeit limited, word processor.  They do have a very nice looking user interface as well as the best graphical editing capabilities of any of the programs, but they do not have a lot of features beyond the standard word processing features.

From a document formatting standpoint, Buzzword faired reasonably well, the header and footers, paragraphs, bullets, and graphics imported similar to all the other programs.  Their downfall is their lack of support for any advanced word processing features.

Overall Grade: C+
Brief Quote: “Nice interface and graphic capabilities, but almost no advanced features.”

Zoho
When I compared online spreadsheets, Zoho Sheet was the clear winner.  When it comes to word processors, I feel they still have some work to

Zoho Writer Word Processor

Zoho Writer Word Processor

do.   Zoho still has some nice advanced features, an intuitive and nice looking user interface, and a strong user base so I’m still hopeful that improvements will push the program forward.

From a user interface and functionality standpoint, I would place Zoho Writer somewhere between Google Docs and ThinkFree.   The import capabilities are much more similar to Google Docs, but the user interfaces has more of an Office-like feel similar to ThinkFree.

One of the bright spots of Zoho is their ability to develop mail merges and conduct reviews on their documents, something I did not see in the other programs.  Overall, I think Zoho is a nice program, but still is a little bit clunky when importing or developing new documents.

Overall Grade: B
Brief Quote: “Nice Features and user interface, but still feels a little clunky.”

In Summary

Overall, all of the online word processors I reviewed had value and each had something unique to offer.   Based on the grading system I used, it is difficult to say if there is a clear-cut winter, but I do think that ThinkFree has the best user interface and import qualities, Zoho does not have as nice of a user’s interface as ThinkFree, but still offers something that is functional with some advanced features that cannot be found in any of the other programs.

Although Google Docs ranked third, it still is a viable option, especially if you want to incorporate JavaScript macros or are a heavy Google Apps user.   Adobe Buzzword has a good user’s interface and is a nice option for basic word processing, but lacks any advanced features.

The one program that I did not evaluate was Microsoft Web Apps.  This is due to the fact that the full version of Microsoft’s online version of Office is not released yet.  From the previews I have seen, it does look promising though.

If you notice from my grading, none of the online word processors received anything greater than a ‘B+’ grade.  I feel that all online word processors still have some work to do before they will be able to truly compete with Microsoft Office and all of its advanced features.   The desktop version of the Office suite still far and away offers the best user interface and advanced features.    Over the next few years, I feel this will change, but for now Microsoft still has some time to develop an online office suite that can compete with the others.

Related Articles:
A Brief Comparison of Online Spreadsheets
3 Reasons to Not Switch to Google Docs
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

Online Alternatives to Microsoft Office

Online tools are relatively new and still have some kinks to work out, but for the most part work well for everyday use.  They generally do not have all of the features as Microsoft Office, but still do a reasonably good job.

Three very good online tools are Google Docs, Zoho, and ThinkFree.  The nice thing with each of these is that your files are kept on the company’s server, so as long as you have internet access, you can access your files.

Google Docs is a nice alternative to Office, but don’t expect to be writing long reports or crunching lots of data in spreadsheets with it.   At this point, I feel that it is more suitable for small spreadsheets or documents that don’t require a lot of formatting.

Zoho is actually a large suite of office productivity tools that extend far beyond spreadsheet, word processors, and presentation software.   The spreadsheet and word processors are a notch above Google’s in my opinion, but they lack the web infrastructure and ability to easily connect that Google has.

ThinkFree also offers an online spreadsheet, word processor, and presentation software.  From my tests, I think that ThinkFree does the best job at converting Microsoft Office documents and also offers the most robust of the three online office programs.

There are actually several other online spreadsheet/office productivity suites on the market, but I have not played around with them very much.  We will have to wait to see how Products like SkyDrive, Smartsheet, Sheetster, Feng Office, and Contact Office fare.

Overall, I feel that online office suites are still in their infancy, but are getting better and more robust everyday.  For light spreadsheet and writing medium sized memos or reports, they work pretty well.

One of the things I hope to do with this blog is to provide additional information on the details of online office suites – so stay tuned!

-TW