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.

Organizing Data and Information with Evernote

Evernote Application

Evernote Logo

What is Evernote?

If you have not tried out the digital organization and notetaking application Evernote yet,  I would highly recommend that you do.  Evernote is a suite of cloud and desktop applications meant to assist people in organizing the data and information in their lives.

Organization is completed through a series digital “notes”.  Notes tcan be text based, clips of webpages, web links, voice and audio data clips, videos, or images.  Organization is done through folders and tags, as well as through location, contextual text-based, and time-based attributes associated with the media saved in the notes.

Currently, Evernote is available on a variety of desktop and mobile platforms, including; MacOS, Windows, Linux, ChromeOS, Android, Apple iOS, and Blackberry OS.

What Makes Evernote Unique?

There are a number of notetaking and organizational productivity tools on the market today, but what makes Evernote unique is its ease of use and its organizational structure.  Evernote allows makes it easy for the user to store data from anywhere, including their mobile device, desktop, or laptop.

Because Evernote is with the user all the time, it is easy to store user specific information at any time and have that information available at the push of a button.  All data is stored locally on every user’s machine and backed up and synced through Evernote’s servers.

What also makes Evernote unique is its business model.  The company’s founder, Phil Libin, has stated that he wishes Evernote to be a 100-year company and adheres to a pricing structure that allows for a significant amount of free data usage before payment is required.  Their intent is that as users eventually become accustomed to Evernote and see the value that it has in meeting their organizational needs, they won’t have a problem paying for additional usage fees.

Currently, the ad-supported free version offers 60 MB of data per month.  The paid version (currently offered  at approximately $5/month) offers some enhanced features and allows for 1 GB of data per month.

The User Interface

The user interface is clean, simple, and intuitive.,  The screenshot below shows my personal Evernote desktop edition which I run on my Windows laptop.  The left hand side of the window shows the organizational structure of your notes, including the collection of your “notebooks” and the tags associated with each notebook.  In addition, the left hand side also includes the searchable file attributes and saved searches for your notes.

The middle portion of the window includes the actual notes and web clippings I have collected.  This particular screenshot is showing some of my “To Read” articles.  You have multiple options for how our notes can be displayed; List, Snippet, or Thumbnail.   I have the ‘Snippet’ option selected for this screenshot.  The far right windows show the contents of the note that is currently selected.

Above the main window you have the main menu bar, a secondary menu bar, and shortcut bar that allows for easy access to thing like opening and formatting files, syncing files, and accessing quick searches like notes that were collected from you mobile device or web clippings.

Evernote User Interface

Evernote Desktop User Interface

The web interface is similar to the desktop application, but has fewer capabilities, as shown in the image below.  From my experience, Evernote does a good job synchronizing between the desktop, mobile and the web versions. If you make a change one device (a smartphone for example) and access it from another device (a laptop for example), everything should be consistent across the devices.

How I Use Evernote

Although I am not a power user, I have found Evernote to be extremely useful in keeping track of many things in my online life.  I mainly use it for two purposes:  Notetaking and Article Clipping.  Because of its syncing capabilities I find it to be very useful for jotting down ideas, action items, and other lists on any device knowing that it will be backed up and accessible by all my other devices.

The article clipping feature is also very cool and useful.  I use the Google Chrome add-on to clip any article that I find interesting and then later access it on my laptop or tablet.  Its even available off-line if you happen to be somewhere where wifi or data access is not available.

Even with my limited use of Evernote I can see its potential in searching by any of the tags or attributes that are assigned to your notes.  I can see myself expanding my use of Evernote over time.

In Conclusion

Evernote is an interesting program that fills a need in the mobile world – the ability to create, access and sync  notes, pictures, articles,and  voice messages to yourself across all of your computing devices.  The management team of Evernote has a long-term strategy and a product that continues to expand in its capabilities.  I would highly recommend everyone check it out – let me know what you think!

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

Box Changing Domain Name to Box.com

Box, the file content management and file storage service, recently announced on their blog that they will be changing its domain extension from ‘.net’ to ‘.com’.  They stated that the reason for the change was to that the company “..needed a trusted and updated, enterprise-worthy domain”.This appears to be another step in the evolution of Box from a small start-up to a major player in the cloud computing and file content management industry.  In my opinion, Box has done an excellent job distinguishing themselves from others in the marketplace by offering a great brand and a great product.   There are several cloud-based file services on the market, including services like DropBox and SugarSync, but Box has been able to distinguish themselves as a niche product that offers more than just file storage and syncing files across multiple devices.

When I first heard about the change, I was a little bit concerned that the links that I have shared using the ‘.net’ address would not work.  After testing several of my linked files it doesn’t appear that there are any problems.   Based on some of the comments from the blog post, it sounds like some users IT departments may need to change some of their firewall settings so that the new domain does not get blocked.

Comparing 7 Free Cloud Storage and Syncing Services

Overview
There are several options for storing you files on the cloud and syncing them across multiple computers – how do you know which one is best for you?

Below is a summary of seven popular file storage and syncing services. I’ve compared 7 popular storage services against four categories; amount of free storage, ability to sync across multiple computers/devices, ability to sync user defined folders, and if it offers a mobile application through Android or the iPhone.

Services with Most Features
As I have discussed in a previous post, I still believe that SugarSync offers the best value for a cloud-based file storage and syncing service.  They offer several features that I find advantageous over the others, including 5GB of free storage, a mobile application, and a very nice interface for syncing files across multiple device.

I recently starting using Windows Live Mesh and was impressed with Microsoft’s offering.  They offer a full 5 GB of free storage that can be synced across multiple computers.  I found the syncing to be fast and efficient.   Setting up user defined folders was a little bit of hassle, but works well once the set up was complete.

The Market Leaders
I’ve discussed both DropBox and Box.net previously on this site.  Both of these are great options and are market leaders.  DropBox offers slightly less storage with their free version and also does not have the ability to select custom folders, but still is a very popular choice.  Box.net actually integrates a lot of enhanced features, making it more of a Content Management System.  They offer a lot of collaboration features which several of the other services do not offer.

The 2GB Storage Group
ZumoDrive
, Syncplicity, and SpiderOak round out the other services that I reviewed.  Each of these are very similar in functionality, offer 2GB of free storage, and have the ability to sync across multiple computers.  If you are looking for a free service, I like SugarSync over these because of the larger amount of free storage.

Summary
With dozens and dozens of file storage systems on the market today, it can be very difficult to find the service that meets your needs.   If you are looking for a decent amount of storage, with the ability to sync across multiple devices I would recommend trying out some of the services I have discussed here.

Ge.tt Offers a Great File Sharing Service

I’ve recently been playing around with the file sharing site Ge.tt and have been quite impressed. Unlike many of the other file sharing sites out there, Ge.tt offers a simple user interface, a process that allows to share files quickly, and the ability to create multiple storage locations with separate URL links.

In addition, some of the other capabilities that I think distinguish from other file sharing sites include:

– Sharing capabilities through Twitter, Facebook, and email

– Ability to create what Ge.tt calls “Shares”, which are essentially separate storage locations with unique URL address.

– Automatic shortened URL links for “Shares”

One of the other cool features about Ge.tt is that you don’t have to be registered to use the service.  It reminds me a bit of the former file sharing/collaboration site Drop.io, which unfortunately no longer exists since it was bought by Facebook.  It’s not quite as open as Drop.io was, but it does have some similar features.

You also have the option to register, which offer you some additional functionality.    It currently offers 3 GB of storage for registered users.

Overall, I’m really impressed with the Ge.tt file sharing service.  I think its biggest strength is its simplicity and ease of use.   I will definitely be incorporating this service into my file sharing and storage toolbox.

-TW