Cloud Based Office Suites
What is a web-based office suite?
A web-based office suite is typically a collection of web-pages that perform the same functions as a word processor, a spreadsheet, and/or a presentation manager. These three are the bare minimum though some offer an extraordinary number of functions.
Some suites include a database, project management, customer relationship management, a wiki, and even a group chat.
The trick in getting applications like this to run in a web environment is to use a language, built into your web-browser, that can handle the instructions necessary to format and align text, spell check, highlight, display as bold, italic, or underlined, allow hyperlinks and even spell check.
If a spreadsheet is the web based application the coding becomes even more involved in order to perform basic math functions (add, subtract, multiply, and divide), or the summing a column of figures. Other spreadsheet functions would be expected such as changing column widths or row heights.
This is virtual office space to rent.
The solution to getting this sort of functionality is to use a web-page embedded programming language such as java.
The advantages with such suites are numerous.
- Platform nonspecific*.
- Documents can be shared by multiple users
- Documents can be accessed from any computer that has an Internet connection
- Have all or most of the functionality of Microsoft Office or Open Office
- Files are saved off-site so if your computer crashes they are still accessible; just from another web-enabled computer.
- Your work is backed up on the host system. Managing your own backups is moot.
* It doesn't matter if you are running Window, Linux, or Unix (Window X). You can edit your documents from most computers regardless of platform.
Some disadvantages listed here will eventually disappear or be will be ironed out by the hosting site. Others will likely be with us for quite some time.
- You are trusting someone else with upkeep of your documents
- Sites might be converted or "upgraded" to a pay as you go basis
- You are trusting someone else with your information*
- The site could go under due to financial problems or bad business planning
* If your documents are shared in a group setting the risks are greatly increased.
Four Web based Office Suites
In this particular hub I will briefly discuss the four web based office suites that rank at the top in searches. This is no accident.
One is by a very well known search site. The other three are less well known (or known mainly to a devoted base), but that certainly does not diminish their power or usefulness. Microsoft also has plans to get into this area with a product called Workspace Office Live.
I will list links to all five sites at the bottom of this hub.
Click main image to enlarge to readable size. Click four thumbnails for mainpage views of each productClick thumbnail to view full-size
Central Desktop gives the user a twenty-nine day trial. After that the user my sign up for a month-to-month membership. Naturally, the fee schedule has built in discounts for more space and larger work groups.
You can create a word processor document, a spreadsheet, and discussion documents. You can also create tasks, milestones, calendars, and reports. The reports are currently limited to Project Status Report, Activity Report, and Login Report. You can also upload any type of file (no copyright violations please) to be downloaded and shared by other members of the team.
Each document type screen has an introductory video explaining the particular document section along with "how-to" information. This is the only web-based office product that is consistent with this feature out of the four listed here.
The trial account allows two (2) workspaces of five (5) members each. Clearly the product is designed to allow a team to work together on a project. The trial period also allows the use of twenty-five (25) megabytes of space.
The fee schedule versions are Team Plan 1, Team Plan 2, and Company Plan(s) 3, 4, & 5.
Team Plan 1 allows two hundred fifty (250) MB of space, three (3) workspaces, and ten (10) team members and costs $25.00 per month
Team Plan 2 allows five hundred (500) MB of space, ten (10) workspaces, and fifteen (15) team members and costs $49.00 per month.
Company Plan 3 offers one (1) gigabyte of document space, twenty-five (25) workspaces, and an unlimited number of team members and costs $99.00 per month.
Company Plan 4 offers two (2) gigabytes of document space, fifty (50) workspaces, and an unlimited number of team members and costs $175.00 per month
Company Plan 5 offers ten (10) gigabytes of document space, one hundred (100) workspaces, and an unlimited number of team members and costs $249.00 per month.
A workspace is a reserved area, much like a folder, where documents relating to a specific project(s) may be held. Assigned team members have access to workspaces and the documents & files within them.
A distinguishing feature of Central Desktop is it's very team centric design. The three other products mentioned allow multiple users as well, but Central Desktop seems geared specifically for this type of work environment; a project oriented desktop.
CentralDesktop also supports Web Meetings with a similar fee schedule to the WorkSpace plans mentioned above. These plans determine the number of attendees and concurrent meetings.
Finally of the four products mentioned this is the only one that generated a personal email to the registered user with an invitation to join webinars. The webinars are designed to give the member rapid familiarity with CentralDesktop and allow them to get the most out of this suite. It's nice to see that Central Desktop takes this idea so seriously.
CentralDesktop also offers discounts (of up to 50%) for academic and non-profit organizations. Impressive!
ThinkFree uses a more traditional layout for work areas named folders. Much like your workstation desktop/laptop computer these folders can be created, moved, and deleted. ThinkFree offers one gigabyte of space and supports Word Processing, Spreadsheet, and Presentation type documents.
The menu systems for these applications should be very familiar; they closely resemble the drop-down menus for Microsoft Office Suite. You can also upload Microsoft Word, Excel, and PowerPoint files into ThinkFree and work with them there.
There is a premium package (in beta) that is offered. I was unable to locate prices for these products. They do require a download ostensibly so you can work on your creations on or off-line. Naturally this premium package allows you to synchronized your online and offline (on your computer) documents with the click of a button. Synchronization occurs in the background.
Supported platforms for these downloads are;
- Windows 98/ME/2000/XP
- Mac OSX 10.4
- Linux kernel version 2.2.13 or higher, glibc2 version 2.2.0 or higher
There is a "desktop" Premium version available for purchase for $50.00. They also accept PayPal.
Google Docs is probably the simplest of the lot. It is completely free, is accessed with the same login ID you use for your Google mail, and supports the three main document types Word Processor, Spreadsheet, and Presentation.
You can upload and share only certain file types (list below) and each file type has certain size limits.
- Word, RichText format, Open Document (Open Office), Star Office, and HTML 500KB
- PowerPoint Presentations limited to a 10MB upload, 2MB web-transfer, or 500KB via email.
- Spreadsheets are limited to comma separated values (CSV) or Excel. Spreadsheets can be up to 1MB
Google even supplies the registered user with a special mail address that will transfer any mailed document of the types listed above directly to Google Office. Naturally Google's powerful search engine is incorporated to help you find documents you've created or emailed quickly.
This is a beta product (meaning it's still being tested) so this may become a pay for use feature in future.
There have been some hints in the technology press that this is the product that's got Microsoft worried, but I think the next one should have them quaking in their shoes.
On February 6, 2008 (yesterday) Google announced the release of Google Apps. Google Apps combines the functionality of Google Docs (above) with Google Mail, Google Calendar, and Google Talk.
One of the interesting features of Google Apps is it's ability to associate the domain name in the email address (everything after the @ sign) such that these common domain members are considered team members on a common project.
Google Apps is also offered as a Premiere edition at $50.00 per year.
I stumbled across Zoho last year and found the typical stable of applications; Word Processing, Spreadsheet, and Presentation. The interface was ho-hum and I couldn't find anything all that remarkable about it.
Six months passed before I looked again. I was in for a shock. Zoho now includes;
- Writer (a Word Processing)
- Sheet (a Spreadsheet)
- Show (a slide-show Presentation)
- Notebook (with sorting, exporting, and publishing)
- Wiki (a forum type program that never forgets [so be careful what you say])
- Meeting (meeting planner / sharable)
- Planner (a to-do calendar)
- Chat (you know this one)
- Creator (a database)
There are also beta versions of Mail, Database, Client Relationship Management (CRM), Projects, and Challenge (create multiple choice tests).
This is a feature rich (a true understatement) product and I don't see any end in sight.
Zoho supports Open Office and Microsoft Office files. Zoho even supplies an email address that you can use to upload files directly into your Zoho account.
This is the one Microsoft should be worried about; maybe Google too. They even have a toll-free number. And not a price posted anywhere.
If and when Zoho starts charging for this service I won't be surprised if they undercut everyone else and corral the Web Based Office Suite market.
But I'm sure there will come a day when this very rich suite of applications will have to be paid for.
Microsoft WorkSpace Office
As of now this product is not yet "live." Microsoft is accepting pre-release applications from interested users. Follow the link in the links section to sign up.
I wish I had more to say here, but as of now this application is still in pre-beta (not available to the public) testing.
- Central Desktop - Project collaboration, Team collaboration, Intranets, Wiki Software - Central Desk
On-Demand Team Collaboration Platform. Central Desktop provides web-based tools for business teams to manage projects, create intranets and easily collaborate with customers through extranets. The Central Desktop platform combines real-time collabor
- Microsoft Workspace Office
Microsoft Office Live Workspace is your online companion to Microsoft Office -- access your documents from anywhere and easily share your work with others.
After a week the only company that consistently keeps me up to date, even though this is a free account, is CentralDesktop.
Any addition, deletion, or change to a document generates an email which I receive within minutes. I've also been invited to webinars on the use of CentralDesktop.
I have not heard from Microsoft, Google, Zoho, or ThinkFree. I wasn't expecting to hear from anyone (except Microsoft) so that CentralDesktop notifies members of any changes is a pleasant surprise.