Online Collaborative Office Suites
I’ve been comparing some of the new online, collaborative, MS Word-compatible word processors. I really like the idea of a simple word processor that allows me to access my files online whether I’m in my office, at home, or on the road. Most of them are Ajax applications that run nicely right in your browser window. The fact that these applications are free is also attractive–but until today I haven’t seen one that I could really recommend as an alternative to MS Word.
A lot of people I know have used Google Docs & Spreadsheets (formerly Writely). The nice thing about Google Spreadsheets is that it integrates well into Gmail; you can open an Excel Spreadsheet attachment directly online in Google Spreadsheet (although, disappointingly, you can’t open a Word attachment the same way in Google Docs). Google Docs also can save files in PDF format, making it a cheap and easy way to generate PDF from Word documents.
Not as many people seem to know about Zoho. The Zoho suite of applications is more extensive–it includes not only a word processor and spreadsheet, but a Powerpoint-compatible presentation program called Zoho Show. Zoho has just announced an exciting partnership with Omnidrive, the online file storage service. You can sign up for a free 1GB account, upload all your document files, install the Omnidrive client (currently Windows-only, although a Mac client is expected next week), and then open your Word documents directly from Omnidrive in Zoho Writer. For $40 a year you can upgrade to a generous 10GB of storage, and larger storage options are also available.
The one big problem with both of these suites, at least for academic and legal users–the one crucial feature they lack–is support for footnotes and endnotes. That makes Google Docs and Zoho Writer fine for drafting letters, newsletter articles, and the like–especially for collaborative authoring–but rules them out for academic writers.
Fortunately, I’ve just discovered ThinkFree. Like Google Docs and Zoho, ThinkFree is (as the name implies) a free application that supports online, collaborative document authoring. Like Zoho/Omnidrive, ThinkFree gives you 1GB of storage for free. But unlike the others, ThinkFree fully supports footnotes, endnotes, and other rich editing features.
Obviously, all of these applications require a broadband Internet connection (although each is also planning to offer an offline version). But I’m already at the point where I can’t work without a high-speed Internet connection, so this is nothing new for me. I’m continuing to play with all three suites, but ThinkFree is looking like a winner.