Zoho Docs offers comfortable, flexible productivity suite

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 moreflexible cross-platform approach, and it adds some innovative featuresthat are worth considering.

Office Apps
Zohohas a comfortable-to-use layout that will feel familiar to Microsoft Office users. Thevarious Zoho apps–which include word processor, spreadsheet, andpresentation components–look and behave a lot like the pre-RibbonMicrosoft Office, particularly Office 2003. Even so, Zoho standsout with some innovative features, such as a drop-down formatting menufor enclosing selected text with various quotation marks or brackets,and another that changes the formatting of selected text to all caps ormerely capitalizes each word. Zoho has fewer font choices thanMicrosoft’s Office 365 does, though.

Regrettably, Zoho doesn’t deliver the power and flexibilitythat real spreadsheet gurus need. The Web-based tools are sufficientfor basic tasks, but they lack many advanced features.

Compatibility
Most businesses rely on Microsoft Office as their primary desktopproductivity suite. The value of a rival platform such as Zoho Docshinges on how compatible it is with Office formatting conventions andfile types.

In document fidelity–maintaining formatting consistency from aMicrosoft Office program to a cloud-based equivalent and backagain (or vice versa)–no online productivity platform is perfect.

Zoho Docs is in the same boat as Google Apps when it comes to filefidelity, but Zoho has an advantage over Google in supported filetypes. Zoho can export files in the current XML-based file formats usedin Office 2007 and 2010 (.docx, .xlsx, .pptx), but Google Apps islimited to saving Office files in the outdated .doc, .xls, and .pptformats.

Sharing and Collaboration
Like Google Apps, Zoho provides solid collaboration from within theapps themselves. The collaboration tools are better here than inMicrosoft’s Office 365, but not quite as robust as what Google Apps hasto offer.

Zoho allows real-time editing with multiple users simultaneously. Infact, it offers greater flexibility than either Google Apps or Office365 by enabling sharing with any email address, and by allowingcollaborators to sign in through a Zoho, Google, Facebook, or Yahooaccount.

The Zoho interface is not as polished as the Google one, but the twoare otherwise fairly close in usability.

Files and Storage
Zoho comes with a meager 1GB of online file storage. You can purchase anadditional 5GB for $3 per user per month. The space allocated for Zohoemail 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 becomean issue if you want to attach a document with lots of images, forexample. You get no way to sync data for offline access, either, butyou can use something like Box.net or Dropbox in lieu of a native option.

Pricing
Zoho Docs has two pricing plans: $3 per user per month, and $5 per userper month. The plans are similar, but for $5 per user per month you canadd twice as many workspaces, and you get a couple of additionalfeatures, including the ability to share documents with users outsideof Zoho without requiring them to set up a Zoho account. In eithercase, email is a separate service that costs $2.50 or $3.50 per userper month depending on the Zoho Docs plan.

Conclusion
Zoho Docs is a capable suite of productivity tools. In many ways,it offers more innovative features than its competitors do, and it ismore flexible. However, it doesn’t stack up well against Office 365 ina Microsoft Office-centric world, and its pricing is not as competitiveas that of rival online productivity platforms.

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