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Zoho doesn't so much offer an office suite as a bewildering collection of business apps and services, ranging from Web-based email to project management and invoicing applications. The core, however, is made up of the word processor, spreadsheet and presentation apps, namely Writer, Spreadsheet and Show. Zoho provides 1GB of space for document storage, and you can only save to your hard drive by exporting the document.
As with Google Docs, all apps run from within a browser, but there are some key differences. Firstly, Zoho's apps look and feel a lot more like Office desktop apps than their Google equivalents, and generally have a more expansive feature set and a more polished, Office-like interface, down to niceties like proper context-sensitive menus at a right-click of the mouse. The tabbed toolbars even work a bit like the Office 2007/2010 ribbon, each one giving you access to a different set of buttons designed for a specific purpose. Unlike the current version of Google Docs, Zoho Writer also allows you to work offline and then sync documents when you return online. If you work on a laptop while travelling, this is something you'll appreciate.
Considering their online nature, Zoho's apps feel speedy and pack in some impressive features. The Spreadsheet app, for example, supports pivot tables, the Show presentation app offers a strong selection of themes and templates to work with, and the word processor handles tricky things like bullet points, tables, headers and footers really well. You even get a great selection of modifiable shapes and clip-art, and a slightly better range of fonts to use than you'll find in Google Docs.
Admittedly, animation features in Show are limited to transitions, while Writer suffers from an odd approach to images. Instead of inserting the image then dragging it into place and out to size, you're forced to input settings for size, position and any word wrap options while inserting, and you're unable to adjust them manually afterwards – a limitation that doesn't seem to affect the Show app. It's also frustrating that, as with Google Docs, you can only edit text styles through the use of Cascading Style Sheets – something beyond the average user’s ken.
Zoho tries its best to load Word 2007 and Excel 2007 files, not to mention most of their 2010 equivalents. But, while we weren't surprised to find graphics altered and repositioned or word-wrap options around images switched off in our more advanced documents, we weren't entirely happy to see large chunks of unformatted text shoved into place.
PowerPoint 2010 files seemed to be a complete no-no, and 2007 files that didn't contain animation still had their share of formatting problems. There's clearly some work to be done before Zoho can claim full office compatibility. Meanwhile, Zoho falls behind Google Docs in one key respect; while you can share documents and allow others to edit them, only one user can work on them at a time.
If full Office compatibility isn't a priority for you, then Zoho is a strong contender, and in many respects it's a better bet than Google Docs if you want to stick to just one suite of apps. Zoho also seems to be working hard on improvements, so we'd tag Zoho as a definite one to watch. With Google gathering all the hype, it hasn't had the attention it deserves.
Though it lacks the everyman appeal of Google Docs, if you're a business user looking to take your productivity into the cloud, its large selection of applications provide unrivalled breadth.