August 30, 2011, 11:36 AM — Now that Microsoft has launched Office 365, it is officially "game on" for online office productivity suites. Microsoft may enjoy a near-monopoly in the desktop office suite market, but online it faces established rivals in the form of Google Apps and Zoho Docs.
We evaluated these three productivity platforms to see how they compare. We examined the office tools themselves, along with their file storage, their consistency of formatting, how they work on mobile devices and in different Web browsers, and how much they cost.
All three platforms provide office basics such as word processing, spreadsheet, and presentation tools. All three also have an email client, online file storage, real-time sharing and collaboration, and some measure of cross-platform availability.
As capable as these three offerings are, though, none of them can truly match the features and flexibility of a locally installed desktop office suite such as Microsoft Office 2010, or the open-source Libre Office. Desktop suites also have the advantage of being able to function without relying on Internet connectivity.
Ultimately, the choice of which suite is best is a subjective determination that involves other factors such as which mobile platform or Web browser you use. Based on our scoring, though, Office 365 is the best overall value, with Google Apps running a close second.
Applications are the primary factor in selecting any office productivity suite--online or not. If the word processor, spreadsheet, presentation, or other tools included in a suite don't meet your needs or expectations, comparing them becomes pointless.
If you're familiar with Office 2007 or Office 2010, you'll probably feel most comfortable working in Office 365. The Web incarnations of the Office apps have stripped-down versions of their respective Ribbons, but Office 365 still has the same look and feel overall, and the core features are present.
Zoho has a comfortable-to-use layout as well. The various Zoho apps look and behave a lot like the pre-Ribbon Microsoft Office, particularly Office 2003. Zoho stands out, though, with unique and innovative features such as a drop-down formatting menu to enclose selected text with assorted quotation marks or brackets, and another that changes selected text to all caps, or simply capitalizes each word.
By comparison, Google Apps' menu bars and features seem austere. People who prefer the old-school text-based menu bar may appreciate the Google Apps interface, but Google Apps is more limited in what it allows you to do, both in formatting and in functionality.