Online office apps to rival Microsoft

Several Web-based office applications have emerged to compete with Microsoft Office. Here's a look some of the potential candidates.
Written by Victoria Ho, Contributor

A bumper crop of online office applications have surfaced recently, and are looking to break Microsoft's stranglehold on the productivity software market. But whether they will succeed in their attempt is still anybody's guess.

Typically aimed at users in the small business segment, these online productivity suites offer a free alternative to Microsoft's proprietary Office package, and can be accessed anywhere via a Web browser.

However, product compatibility is not always guaranteed so documents with special formatting may display differently on another document editing software.

However, some organizations remain unaware that there are online office alternatives. A study released in May this year, for example, revealed that 53 percent of respondents in India had not heard of online productivity applications.

Nevertheless, Microsoft's recent announcement to roll out a free online document tool Office Live Workspace, may be a sign that the software giant is taking the online threat seriously. However, users cannot edit documents within Office Live Workspace, which currently serves only as a tool for viewing, sharing and storing Office documents online.

ZDNet Asia looks at some of the online office suites that have emerged as potential rivals to Microsoft Office:

Zoho Office Suite
Zoho's word processing application, Zoho Writer, offers typical functions an office user might use such as font formatting, table and text alignment, and bullet templates.

It also has a spellcheck function, which also offers suggestions to misspelt words. Unlike Microsoft Word, though, Zoho does not have an autocorrect feature and users will have to run the spellcheck tool in order to view words that are misspelt or not recognized by the in-built dictionary.

Zoho is currently the only online application that offers, for free, the option for users to work on their documents offline. The company recently announced that it is leveraging Google's Gears technology to allow Zoho users to take the application offline--leapfrogging the search giant's own plans to do so via its Premier Edition.

Zoho users are given 1GB worth of free storage, and can save their documents in various formats such as Word, Adobe's PDF and HTML.

Its spreadsheet offering, Sheet, bears similarities to Microsoft Excel, such as the use of Excel formulae, icon positioning and the way active rows are highlighted.

Zoho offers 15 font types.

ThinkFree Online
Billing itself "the best online office on Earth", ThinkFree offers a Java-based word processor that supports 43 font types.

According to its product overview on its Web site, ThinkFree claims to have focused on delivering the closest compatibility with Microsoft Office.

Similar to Zoho, ThinkFree offers users 1GB of free storage and online collaboration features, allowing several users to edit the same document simultaneously.

Google Docs
The search giant's online office applications allow users to create documents, spreadsheets and presentations. It offers basic word processing functions such as font formatting, and text and table alignment.

Google Docs allows users to roll back to previous revisions of the same document, and provides a way to track the edit history of a document that has been enabled for online collaboration.

The office application offers nine font types.

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