Your Office in the Cloud: Google Docs, Office 365, and What Else?

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Experts agree it’s too early to say if the arrival of cloud-based office suites will spell the demise of Microsoft Office and other desktop-based productivity suites. One thing that just about everyone can agree upon, however, is the importance of cloud connectivity in ensuring real-time document collaboration. Assuming a continuation in the charge toward cloud productivity, here is a round-up of some of the most frequently-discussed and high-profile cloud-based office suites available for companies of all sizes, from small to enterprise level.

Working in the Cloud

Office 365

One of the greatest benefits of Office 365 is that there’s no learning curve. If your productivity tools have long existed within the realm of Microsoft Office, as is the case with the vast majority of companies, you can expect almost zero bumps during the transition from the traditional desktop version if you elect to go the cloud route.

Office 365 offers what is essentially the very same experience as the desktop version, with some additional benefits that outweigh the drawbacks of more limited functionality. For one, the software is always up to date. This eliminates the need to buy and install updated Office products in the future, which can save time and quite possibly a lot of money. The aforementioned limited functionality that comes with Office 365 is likely only to impact individuals who utilize some of the more “high end” features, like the Macro functionality in Excel.

Office 365 University

Real time collaboration is also vastly improved over the desktop version of Office. Since documents are stored in a central cloud location, everyone always has access to the most recent version, and changes are visible to all the moment they’re made. Document versions can also be easily tracked, and rolled back if necessary. Office 365 also comes with a full range of mobile access for virtually all devices: Android, iOS (including iPhone and iPad), and Windows Phone. Windows Phone users receive an additional mobile perk with Outlook, which enables synced access to email.

The mobile app is free, but that’s not the case with 365 itself, and the hook is, you’re required to pay a yearly subscription for access. This can prove a plus or a minus, depending on how many employees your company has. But the dedicated cloud storage space that comes as a part of the package could easily balance that out, considering companies may no longer have to pay for expensive on-site servers to house data.

Google Docs

Google DriveA trailblazer in the cloud-based office suite game, Google has been no slouch at giving Microsoft a run for its money. Long before the birth of Office 365, corporations were turning to Google Docs to answer the need for real time, shared documentation with fully functional mobile access.

Word processing, spreadsheet and presentation needs are supported, but these also run the risk of falling short when in the hands of “power users” known for utilizing the upper percentile of Microsoft Office’s more complex abilities. Other limitations exist, such as only having the ability to view, but not edit PDF documents. Google Docs collaboration is bolstered by the ability of users to see changes as they’re being made to a given document or to access all recorded changes and versions.

ZoHo Docs

Zoho DocsOne of the immediate drawbacks to using ZoHo Docs is the present lack of mobile support for its full range of productivity suites. Lower cost is its most appealing aspect, running between $5 and $8 per month per user (for its Standard and Premium subscriptions) and even offering an entirely free service which seems ideal for companies just getting a start.

Cloud storage ranges from 5GB (free) to 250GB (Standard) to 1TB (Premium). File sharing is limited to three collaborators on its free version, while the latter pay versions enjoy unlimited collaborators.

The key to ZoHo’s success as a low-cost productivity suite is in its full support of all Microsoft Office document types, making it possible for companies to utilize a single licensed Office product across an entire organization. Zoho is made all the more attractive by offering a broad range of additional business apps that stretch beyond productivity tools and into the realm of CRM and marketing.

ThinkFree

ThinkFree CloudThinkFree earned the distinction years ago of being among the first web-based office suites to enable users to create and edit a handful of Microsoft Office programs like Word, Excel and PowerPoint. Since then, it’s been a bit eclipsed by the Google Docs of the world, but that doesn’t mean it’s not still a viable alternative for those seeking low cost cloud-based office suites.

The desktop software costs $49.95, but interested parties can also take advantage of ThinkFree Online, which costs nothing and can be freely accessed through the creation of a user ID. The online version comes with 1GB free cloud storage and enables users to create new MS Office-compatible documents without having to own Office. Document collaboration is also supported, as is mobile management for smartphones and tablets in either the Google Play Store, Apple App Store, or Windows Market.

Adobe Buzzword

Adobe BuzzWordOne of the lesser known cloud-based productivity alternatives comes from a company that everyone has heard of, which may lead you to believe either the product isn’t up to snuff, or Adobe’s not all that interested in pushing it.

Actually, it’s neither. Buzzword is a collaborative word processor that is part of the package with Adobe’s Acrobat Collaboration suite. There is no limit to the number of collaborators that can edit and update a document, and controls are put in place to track versioning. Additionally, the program lets administrators assign access based on individuals’ roles.

Documents are simple to create, and Buzzword’s bigger bag of word processing tips makes up for the lack of a built in Excel-type spreadsheet program. Files can be shared with a specific audience through online publishing, but emailing has to be performed manually through a separate program. Online storage is unlimited, which is a benefit that offsets Buzzword’s limited capacity for creative fonts, a purpose built functionality that ensures a much wider readership capability. Buzzword’s lack of any mobile app support may be the deal killer for some, and the fact it’s built on the Adobe Flash platform means many mobile devices with browser capability can’t access it.

CloudOn

CloudOn

The latest entrant into the race for cloud suite supremacy, CloudOn is the blue ribbon winner for best marketing slogan yet: “Get your CloudOn.” Initially available as a free mobile app for iOS and Android, CloudOn took to the web full scale recently. Much like ZoHo, CloudOn gives users the ability to view and edit Microsoft Word, Excel and PowerPoint documents.

At this point in its evolution, CloudOn is a browser-based platform that operates only on Google Chrome and Apple Safari, but word has it that interoperability with Internet Explorer and Firefox is on its way. Multi-user collaboration is possible with the free version, however in order to get advanced functionality users will have to spring for CloudOn Pro, which normally runs $7.99 per user per month, or $79.99 per year. Between now and the end of 2013, CloudOn Pro is being offered at an introductory rate of $2.99/$29.99.

Additional functionality for the pay version reads like a laundry list of must-haves for productive use, including Track Changes and Comments in Word, Pivot Tables and Charts in Excel, and Themes and Animations in PowerPoint. Once a user signs up for the pay service, the full features are available across mobile and desktop devices. File storage isn’t handled through CloudOn, which is why it’s made to work with free services like DropBox and Google Drive.

As always, the great argument to be made against cloud-based office suites, regardless of what brand name appears in the title bar of your document, is that they are, by nature, far more susceptible to failure because of their internet-dependent nature. If someone is trying to get a presentation together from home and their internet goes down, there’s little than can be done that doesn’t sound like an argument for local desktop access. But with an increasingly greater percentage of companies taking to the cloud, combined with growing online security and dependency on online functionality, this is a rapidly shrinking concern.

Want to find out more about how cloud computing can help to ease your work life? Check out the “Working in the Cloud” series to learn more.

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