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Online Office Suites Part 2: Zoho Writer, Sheet and Show

Sometimes I get overwhelmed by what free cloud services actually offer, Zoho for example isn’t only a complete office suite but also includes systems for CRM, project management, reports and database development. Zoho suits a lot of different needs; it can be a personal word processor or a complete IT-solution for a medium sized business.

If you ever worked in Microsoft Word you will feel right at home in Zoho Writer. The interface is basically the same and so are most of the features. Zoho Writer is surprisingly feature rich compared to Google Docs. It has better built in functions for printing and working with documents, there is a page preview option and the integration with EchoSign for signature of documents is smooth.

Zoho Writer is also integrated with blogging application such as Blogger, WordPress, TypePad and LiveJournal. End-users can post to their blogs directly without having to cut and paste the texts in. If you want to share the documents you are writing it is also possible to use a doc roll, which is basically a blog roll of your documents that can be inserted into any web page (uses HTML).

The printing features in Zoho Writer are also rich compared to other cloud office suites. It is possible to view what the page will look like when printed, change the paper size (A4, Letter, Legal and Executive) and margins. Writer is still not as powerful as Microsoft Word when it comes to print, but it does the trick for simple and straight-forward documents.

Creating and managing tables in Zoho Writer is also a lot easier than Google Docs. The interface resembles that of Microsoft Word, right click to add or remove additional rows/columns.

Zoho Writer has a number of collaboration features. It is easy to share the document privately by adding Contacts from your Zoho Contacts or whole groups. If you want you can share your documents publicly, all documents shared get a nice tiny URL so it is easier to communicate.

If I’m going to complain about something in the Zoho application package it’s the directory structure and interface. It took a while getting used to, and even after months of use it still confuses. All applications are listed to the left, when clicking an application it will open a directory structure to the immediate right. It is sorted by your own documents, documents you are collaborating on, templates, documents you made public and trash.

Clicking “New”, creates a new document named untitled. When saving the document you name it, if you want to change the name of the document you can’t just click it in the structure and change it. Instead you have to click “Save As” and then rename it. Also the sort by text is way hidden, almost like it barely fitted.
Zoho Sheet is Zoho’s answer to Microsoft Excel, and it offers really good competition. It has the ability to connect to external data sources easily. For example if you want to import .csv-data or an RSS-feed from a financial site and get real-time updates to your spreadsheet.

If you perform certain operations often it easy to create macros in Zoho Sheet, but why is it not possible to create macros in other Zoho applications? Zoho Sheet even includes a VBA-editor so that you can script more advanced operations.

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Creating nice graphs is sort of the point with a spreadsheet program (ok I know that not all of you agree) and it is easy to do in Zoho Sheet. The operation resembles Microsoft Excel where you just highlight the parts of the spreadsheet that you want in your graph and then click “Create graph”.
Spreadsheets have a tendency to become quite big and extensive in some corporations. When handling larger sheets in Zoho Sheet it is a lot slower than loading the same sheets in Microsoft Excel. For smaller sheets Zoho is however fast enough.

Last out in this Zoho basic functionality overview is Zoho Show, an online replacement for Microsoft PowerPoint and other presentation programs. The application is certainly more social than PowerPoint, for example it is possible to use other Zoho users templates and even presentations (if they have selected to share them).

As all other Zoho applications, Show is very similar to Microsoft PowerPoint and the presentation program in Open Office. However it has some unique features, such as the possibility to embed HTML-code in your presentations, this means that interactive objects on the web can be easily integrated into the presentation.

Zoho Show also has something called Remote, which is handy if you want to show your presentation online and get instant feedback. Participants are invited by e-mail, or can log in to a Zoho-generated URL to watch your presentation. As the presentation goes on they can enter chat messages and ask questions. This is a very neat feature if you work in global teams but also for small businesses that just want to present something to customers around the world.

Zoho Writer, Sheet and Show are competent replacements for most current Microsoft Office applications. Zoho’s applications deliver what they are supposed to do. Since they look a lot like the familiar Microsoft Office package they are also easy and inexpensive to learn.

So how does the basic Zoho applications compare to Google Docs, the main competitor?
Imagine that you are going to buy a completely new car, if you order the absolute basic model of the car you want without any extras it will be like running Google Docs. If you order a model with all the extras (navigation, 18 inch wheels etc) it will be like using Zoho.

Online Office Suites Part 1: Google Docs

Microsoft Office is without a doubt the most popular office suite right now, finding an online replacement for it is not easy. Office has every imaginable feature available, but most of us only use a handful depending on what is needed. The benefits of having an online office suite is pretty obvious, it is possible to access your documents from anywhere, you can write on the go and it is possible to use lower spec computers such as netbooks.

When it comes to office suites there are three viable online alternatives, Google Docs, Zoho and Microsoft Office Live Workspace. Google Docs is the most basic and slimmed down online office suite with a word processor, spreadsheet program and a presentation program. Zoho is basically an online version of Microsoft Office on steroids with tons of applications and features and Microsoft Office Live Workspace falls somewhere in between the two.

Google Docs is the easiest among the tree to get started with. Most people already have a Google-account mainly because of popular Gmail. If you just want a an online application for taking notes Google Docs is the perfect match, however it has a lot more features than is visible at first glance. The Revision History for example shows each saved version of the document, allowing going back to previous versions or just seeing what changed.

Google Docs also has a good and straight-forward spell and grammar checker, the option to add comments to a document and decent table features. Another strength with Google Docs is the easy to use collaboration features. Compared to Zoho they seem tiny in comparison but for sharing documents quickly to a small group nothing beats Google Docs.

The spreadsheet application in Google Docs is slimmed down compared to Excel or Gnumeric, yet I am not sure what is missing. There are charts, forms (for online surveys) and lots of formulas. For example there are financial and engineering formulas. A pretty neat feature is the ability to easily connect to Google Finance and get import real-time stock quotes using formulas.

Creating presentations in Google Docs is easy, as long as you keep your presentation basic. The presentation application is similar to PowerPoint without any animation, effects or on-the fly drawings. For creating a presentation that should be viewed online it is sufficient though.

Google Docs can export documents to a number of formats such as PDF, RTF or any of the Microsoft Office formats. If you would like your documents in another office suite format you are out of luck.

If you are on a slow connection Google Docs is the way to go, it is way faster than Zoho and Microsoft Office Live. For smaller writing, spreadsheets and presentation tasks Google Docs works just fine, but if you use more advanced features there are better alternatives out there, especially for a small business.

Use Gmail effectively

Googles e-mail service, Gmail is one of the most popular webmail services online.  Yet there are many features in Gmail that is not used, even though they will probably make you more effective and give you a better overview of your e-mails.

It is quite common to have several e-mail accounts, for example from your ISP or maybe one for your blog or website. In Gmail you can connect all those accounts to your Gmail, which means that you can get an overview of all your email accounts from one account.

Click “Settings” in the upper right corner and then click the “Accounts “-tab, choose “Add another mail account”. A form will appear where you fill out the login details for your external e-mail.  Check “Label incoming messages” and Gmail will label the incoming messages from that account. It is possible to add up to five accounts.

Sometimes you might want Gmail to forward your messages, for example to a work-email. In the settings menu, click the “Forwarding” tab and then choose to forward your mails to an address of your choice.

Many users of Gmail do not know that it is possible to use keyboard shortcuts to create an effective workflow. This setting is not on by default, in the settings menu click the “General tab” and then choose “Keyboard shortcuts on”, voila!

Some common shortcuts:

c Create new e-mail
u Return to your inbox
r Reply
a Reply all
Ctrl + s Save draft

For more shortcuts turn to the Gmail help section.

If you get loads of e-mail it can be interesting to know if a message needs to be opened ASAP or if it can wait. One way of knowing is by using the “Personal level indicators” in Gmail. If a message has been sent to your address among others an arrow will appear in front of it. If the message was sent to your address solely two arrows will appear.  This feature can be activated in the “General” –tab in the Settings menu.

Sometimes it is neat to have your Gmail in your mobile phone; this can easily be done by downloading the Gmail mobile client (by pointing your mobile web-browser to: The client is a small application that installs on a cell phone, when you run the client it will connect to the Internet through using the phone and retrieve the latest e-mails.  Since it is possible to connect any pop3 e-mail account to Gmail you can have all your e-mails available from anywhere.

It can be a security risk to surf the web using public networks, such as wireless networks in cafes or airports.  However Gmail can be protected by turning on the https feature in.  Https will encrypt your connection to the Gmail server. This can be turned on in the Settings menu under the “General”-tab.  It is recommended having it on all the time, even if you are not surfing public networks (better to be safe than sorry).

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