Monday, May 09, 2011

Office in the cloud : Free web-based office suites

Google Docs Cloud computing is where Google’s strength lies. To compete with MS Office, in 2006, it launched Spreadsheet, a webbased application comparable to MS Excel. More components such as a word processor and presentation makers were gradually added. The suite came to be known as Google Docs.
While earlier the features were somewhat limited, now it has evolved into a feature-rich productivity suite that allows users to create, edit and read their documents from any computing device that has a browser and internet connection. Recently, the company also introduced Google Docs app for smartphones and tablets.
A particularly noteworthy feature of Google Docs is Cloud Connect, a plug-in that can be used with MS Office to automatically synchronize documents between a computer and the web. This means that you can work using MS Office while at home or office, and then access the files on Google Docs when on the move.
In the free version, users are allotted 1GB storage space on Google servers.
For most people, Google Docs is enough. But, organizations looking to move their office work on to the cloud can take a look at Google Apps. Google Docs is just one part of Google Apps with other components being Mail, Calendar and group wikis in the free version. In the commercial version, support is available for additional security, on-demand support and better collaborative tools.

How to get it: Sign up for a Google account and you can access Google Docs for free.

Office Web Apps

Microsoft woke up to the importance of cloud computing late, but in the past one year, it has made impressive strides in putting its wildly-popular MS Office on the web. The company, in 2010, introduced Office Web Apps that allows users to create, view and edit Word, Excel, PowerPoint and One-Note documents using a web browser. A Windows Live account is all a user requires for working with the suite.
The best thing about Office Web Apps is that it integrates very well with Office 2010. Users get 25GB storage on SkyDrive, Microsoft’s cloud-based filehosting service, where they can upload documents directly from within the program. Office Web Apps allows multiple users to collaborate on a single document. It also throws in integration with Hotmail, allowing users to directly upload documents from Hotmail to Skydrive without any need for downloading them.
Just like Google expanded Docs into something bigger, Microsoft is preparing a productivity suite called Office 365. While individual users will be satisfied with Office Web Apps, companies wishing to move to cloud can take a look at this new beta service.
How to get it: Sign up for a Live account and use that to access Office Web Apps.

Documents To Go
Unlike the first two, this is not exactly a productivity suite. Instead, it’s an app that allows users to read, modify, create and format documents on their smartphones and tablets. Documents To Go (DTG) does not offer any web-based storage. But, it can access documents saved on cloud-based services such as Google Docs and DropBox, which is a 2GB virtual hard drive that’s available for free.
DTG, which is supported iPhone, iPad, BlackBerry, Android and Nokia phones, allows a user to “edit and create Word, Excel and PowerPoint files”.
While its interface is decent and editing speed comparatively alright, it helps if your smartphone has some beefy hardware. As a bonus it can also read PDF files. Support for various file formats is stellar and even newer formats like .docx, .xlsx, .pptx work with the app.
How to get it: Search the marketplace in your smartphone. In the free version, users cannot create or edit documents.

ThinkFree This is another app that can be used on virtually any smartphone. The area where Think-Free scores over DTG is the online storage that it bundles with the paid version. It gives users an account with My Office and 1GB online storage where they can save documents.
It also supports the syncing of documents between cloud, handheld devices and PCs, thus making sure that changes are reflected in all copies of the documents.
ThinkFree works well as a document viewer but in the case of editing, speed is generally on the lower side. Formatting options are basic at best.
How to get it: Search the marketplace in your smartphone. In the free version, users can only view or read documents.

Zoho Zoho offers more than 20 services based in the cloud, but to most netizens the most useful will probably be Docs. The suite comes with all the bells and whistles found in webbased productivity apps. There is Writer, Sheet and Show where different users can collaborate on files. The free version comes with 1GB online storage space where one can also store other file formats including images, music files, videos, zip and pdfs.
While Zoho is a comprehensive suite, its support for smartphones and tablets is less than stellar. There is still no app for smartphones, though users can access its services using mobile version of the web site.
How to get it: Sign up at It is free for personal use. Some features not available in free version.

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