Among online productivity suites, Zoho Docs brings a unique third-party perspective to the mix. Microsoft and Google are each entrenched in their own cultures and tools, but Zoho Docs takes a more flexible cross-platform approach, and it adds some innovative features that are worth considering.
Zoho has a comfortable-to-use layout that will feel familiar to Microsoft Office users. The various Zoho apps--which include word processor, spreadsheet, and presentation components--look and behave a lot like the pre-Ribbon Microsoft Office, particularly Office 2003. Even so, Zoho stands out with some innovative features, such as a drop-down formatting menu for enclosing selected text with various quotation marks or brackets, and another that changes the formatting of selected text to all caps or merely capitalizes each word. Zoho has fewer font choices than Microsoft's Office 365 does, though.
Regrettably, Zoho doesn't deliver the power and flexibility that real spreadsheet gurus need. The Web-based tools are sufficient for basic tasks, but they lack many advanced features.
Most businesses rely on Microsoft Office as their primary desktop productivity suite. The value of a rival platform such as Zoho Docs hinges on how compatible it is with Office formatting conventions and file types.
In document fidelity--maintaining formatting consistency from a Microsoft Office program to a cloud-based equivalent and back again (or vice versa)--no online productivity platform is perfect.
Zoho Docs is in the same boat as Google Apps when it comes to file fidelity, but Zoho has an advantage over Google in supported file types. Zoho can export files in the current XML-based file formats used in Office 2007 and 2010 (.docx, .xlsx, .pptx), but Google Apps is limited to saving Office files in the outdated .doc, .xls, and .ppt formats.
Sharing and Collaboration
Like Google Apps, Zoho provides solid collaboration from within the apps themselves. The collaboration tools are better here than in Microsoft's Office 365, but not quite as robust as what Google Apps has to offer.
Zoho allows real-time editing with multiple users simultaneously. In fact, it offers greater flexibility than either Google Apps or Office 365 by enabling sharing with any email address, and by allowing collaborators to sign in through a Zoho, Google, Facebook, or Yahoo account.
The Zoho interface is not as polished as the Google one, but the two are otherwise fairly close in usability.
Files and Storage
Zoho comes with a meager 1GB of online file storage. You can purchase an additional 5GB for $3 per user per month. The space allocated for Zoho email is separate from the data storage and is either 10GB or 15GB, depending on the service plan.
For email file attachments, Zoho limits you to 10MB, which could become an issue if you want to attach a document with lots of images, for example. You get no way to sync data for offline access, either, but you can use something like Box.net or Dropbox in lieu of a native option.
Zoho Docs has two pricing plans: $3 per user per month, and $5 per user per month. The plans are similar, but for $5 per user per month you can add twice as many workspaces, and you get a couple of additional features, including the ability to share documents with users outside of Zoho without requiring them to set up a Zoho account. In either case, email is a separate service that costs $2.50 or $3.50 per user per month depending on the Zoho Docs plan.
Zoho Docs is a capable suite of productivity tools. In many ways, it offers more innovative features than its competitors do, and it is more flexible. However, it doesn't stack up well against Office 365 in a Microsoft Office-centric world, and its pricing is not as competitive as that of rival online productivity platforms.
This story, "Review: Zoho Docs" was originally published by PCWorld.
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