New Offerings For Phones In Web-Based Online Office Suites

Online office suites offer some key advantages to their desktop counterparts thanks to cloud computing. Though less powerful than software that’s physically installed on a desktop computer, Web-based office applications allow for collaboration features, making them worth considering for personal or even enterprise use.

Cloud computing, a term mentioned a lot these days, takes the software you use most — as well as your files — and puts them up on the Web where they can be accessed anywhere from a variety of devices that are connected to the Internet. There’s no need to have the application installed on the computer or device being used.

Most online office suites using this technology are free, including the ones described below. Some can even be used from mobile devices like iPhones and Windows Mobile handhelds on the go.

But one of the biggest advantages is how this Web-based approach allows collaborative features for documents. This lets multiple users access the same document, spreadsheet, or presentation, make changes, and even make comments that everyone can see. No need to attach files to emails that can get lost. No worry over who has the most up-to-date version of the file.

This can be helpful for smaller organizations that don’t have the huge computer and network infrastructure (or money) that large corporations have with servers and shared drives for files. But it’s also good for personal use.

Here are five online office suites worth taking a look at.

Google Docs

Google was one of the earlier well-known entrants to the online office suite marketplace. You can upload and edit documents, presentations, and even spreadsheets as well as create new ones from scratch.

Click the share button at the top of the document you’re working in and add the email addresses of people you want to collaborate with. You can give them the ability to edit documents or just view them. Google will send an email to the collaborators letting them know the document was shared with them so they can go in and do their thing.

Now say you shared a document with a user who went in and made changes to a document you didn’t want. Google Docs tracks versions of documents so you can go back and restore a document to its previous state. You can even see exactly who made what change so you know who to place the blame on.

If you have an iPhone or Android-based phone, you can view your Google Docs right on it and even edit spreadsheets.

Zoho

Zoho is a very large suite of online applications, which include not only word processing, spreadsheets, and presentations, like Google Docs, but also a database program, an email account, a wiki (a collaborative Web site all users can go in and edit. Wikipedia is an example of this on a huge scale), an online meeting application, and several others.

The company offers an iPhone and Windows Mobile optimized site that lets users access their documents on the go, though it’s read-only access.

Like Google Docs, Zoho has versioning functionality, so it stores multiple versions of documents users are working in and it allows sharing and collaboration with other users.

Adobe Buzzword

The best way to describe Adobe’s newer entrant to online document editing is “pretty.” Buzzword, which is beautifully designed and has some pretty neat special effects, is based completely on Flash. However, it is only a document editor. No spreadsheets or presentations here.

Like most other online document editors, you can add multiple users with different “roles” to collaborate on any document. There’s a share button at the bottom of the document that lets users add the email addresses of collaborators and choose roles for them (editing ability or read-only access). Adobe will send them a message letting them know the document is there and provide a link for them to get there.

Thought most competitors allow commenting, it’s handled well, particularly in a visual way, in Buzzword. You can add them for other editors and readers to see while you’re working on the same document.

Thinkfree

Thinkfree, which also offers a downloadable desktop suite, offers Web-based office programs that look a lot like the Microsoft Office applications you’re used to using. This is because the software is actually run in what’s called a Java Virtual Machine which runs programs almost like a computer.

It does take a long time to load Thinkfree’s suite, which includes word processing, spreadsheets, and slideshow presentations, and once the programs load they can be a little slow. But if you’re looking for a powerful, desktop-like experience, this might be the route to go.

Like the competition, Thinkfree has collaboration functionality, but it’s less integrated into the editing applications.

Microsoft Office Live Workspace

Microsoft’s Office Live Workspace is more of a free online collaboration extension to the desktop Office suite, but is worth mentioning since so many people use Microsoft Office.

To use Office Live Workspace users need install an add-in to Microsoft Office that allows them save Word documents, Excel spreadsheets, and PowerPoint presentations to an online “workspace” that all the collaborators can access and edit.

Collaborators can go to the Office Live Web site and view documents as well as comments made by other users, but to edit them, they need to have Microsoft Office installed on the PC they’re using.

Office Live Workspace also includes tools to track shared appointments and lists, which synchronize with Microsoft Outlook. If the creator of an appointment makes a change to the time, for example, all other users will have their Outlook calendars updated automatically.

Similar to the other online office suites, Office Live tracks versions of files and lets users restore previous states.

Microsoft plans to eventually offer lightweight web-based versions of the main Office applications that will allow users to do editing of documents online. The company is still developing these applications.

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