Zoho Office Suite
- Has lots of fonts and font sizes; it's free; extensive suite includes Projects, Show, Virtual Office, Creator, and Planner
- Doesn't correct spelling, it tends to crash when using Internet Explorer 6.0, Zoho Sheet is sluggish
It's not a perfect suite. Some advanced features, such as using wild cards in a find-and-replace operation, aren't supported. Neither is conditional formatting in Sheet. Even so, if your editing needs end with the 5 per cent of Office features most of us use most often, Zoho may be all you need.
Zoho's free office suite is second only to ThinkFree in our affections, although it runs a distant second. But when value for money is factored in, Microsoft Office 2007 doesn't get a look in.
And Zoho Office is a spry little collection of modules, taking only two seconds to launch the word processor (Writer) and spreadsheet (Sheet). The Zoho Office suite is extensive: it includes Projects (project management software), Show (presentations), Virtual Office (groupware with a calendar, e-mail client and more), Creator (database manager) and Planner (an organiser for reminders and notes).
Zoho Writer does a fine job of covering the basics you need most days: check spelling, align text, create bulleted or numbered lists and control fonts (size, style, colour).
Don't go expecting much beyond the basic features, however. Zoho Writer is not as rich as Word or ThinkFree. The spell checker will underline mistakes, for instance, but you can't right-click and find the correct spelling from a list.
Among the highlights: Zoho Writer includes several dozen templates -- everything from student IDs to medication forms, arranged in no particular order -- and you can save your own documents as templates.
Zoho Writer can also compare two different versions of the same document (your current document and the version you saved an hour ago, for example), but like Google's suite, it only highlights differences.
Zoho Writer doesn't use different colours or a strike-through font to differentiate additions from deletions.
While most of the features are self-explanatory for any beginning word processor user, help is weak when you need it in Zoho Writer. For example, there's an "Insert Anchor" feature, but nowhere could we find an explanation of how it worked.
You can add a table with a button click, then click within a cell to format it (change the border style, colour and thickness, plus choose a background colour and cell padding) or choose the "Table" tab from the Format dialogue box to set the cell borders.
Zoho Writer trumps the formatting features of Google Docs -- more fonts and font sizes, for example, plus easy find and replace.
As with Google and ThinkFree, if you want to share your document, you can send invitations to others (they'll need their own online accounts, of course). Zoho Office will also supply you with a script if you want to insert your document on a Web page or in a blog.
Everything is by default stored in your 1GB online library, provided by Zoho without charge. You can export in Word, PDF, RTF, text, HTML, SXW (StarOffice), ODT (OpenOffice), .sxw (StarOffice) and ODT (OpenOffice) formats.
We had problems running Zoho Writer under Internet Explorer 6.0, with frequent crashes; it worked fine under Firefox 2.0.
Zoho Sheet choked when trying to open large worksheets (including one with 500 rows) -- even those that contained only a few columns, simple SUM formulae and four-digit numbers, but no charts or graphs. When a worksheet with 350 rows and 70 columns did open (after a 90-second wait), it was painful to navigate. Screen refreshes slowed things to a crawl. Even when working with a fresh worksheet and adding a column of 10 values, response was sluggish.
Zoho Sheet does have one thing going for it that we like: column, bar, line and pie charts -- both 2D and 3D -- are undeniably easy to create. No, they aren't fancy, but the results are pleasing and suitable when all you need is a simple illustration of your numeric data. You won't get stymied the way you can with Office's myriad charting features you never use, let alone understand.
Among Zoho Sheet's oddities. When you open a new worksheet, you're placed in cell C3 by default, not A1 as you might expect. On the plus side, Zoho offers an Office plug-in that lets you edit your Zoho-hosted files directly from within Excel or Word.
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