Small Business Guide to Online Office Suites - Page 2

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Online Office Suite Productivity Applications

The Word Processor Application

Arguably the second-most important application in any office suite (online or otherwise) is the word processor. This is where you and your employees create and view critical documents, so it needs to be both powerful and easy to use. Make sure it includes these features.

  • Templates: Simple documents are easy enough to start from scratch. But having an available library of pre-formatted templates for special documents—such as a newsletter with multiple columns or a brochure with spots for photos already laid out—will save your employees untold hours and hassle.
  • Spell check: Whether you're a bad speller or just a bad typist, spell-check will keep you from looking silly. The word processor should offer on-the-fly spell checking (where it underlines misspelled words), as well as auto-correction. Grammar checking is nice, too. It flags all those partial and run-on sentences that make us sound like third-graders.
  • Formatting: The word processor should have a toolbar full of formatting choices for selecting font sizes, typefaces and type effects (bold, italic, underline, strikethrough, subscript, superscript, highlight, and so on). It should also let you turn text into live hyperlinks. You'll also need all the paragraph and page formatting options you've become used to at your disposal.
  • Revisions and markup: Track revisions (and who made them) in a document is a key feature in modern word processors, and a good one will also let you add comments in the margin or in digital "sticky notes." A word processor should also let you compare two versions of a document to create a "redlined" version that shows what has changed.
  • File format support: Inevitably, you and your employees will need to share the documents you create beyond the confines of the program you used to create it. You need to be able to save and download files in the most common file formats: Microsoft Word (.doc/.docx), PDF, Rich Text Format (.rtf) and plain text (.txt).
  • Advanced features: You don't use most of the features of your word processor on any given day, but when you need them, the advanced tools can be life-savers. Look for a program that offers search-and-replace, mail-merge features, support for adding headers/footers and pagination, the ability to easily embed pictures and clip-art, and maybe even one that can automatically generate a table of contents.

The Spreadsheet Application

No business can run without a spreadsheet program. Whether you create simple tables, colorful charts or a complete diary of your company's health, make sure the office suite spreadsheet offers these essential features.

  • Table formats: Sometimes simple grid lines just don't cut it. A good spreadsheet program provides a range of table formats.
  • Data import: Much of the data that winds up in a spreadsheet started out somewhere else. Make sure your spreadsheet program can import—and properly parse—text and data from a range of sources: everything from word processing documents, to CSV files, and database files.
  • Data sort: Be sure you can sort and re-sort data on a whim by any parameter you choose.
  • Auto sum:  Why add and subtract yourself (and risk introducing errors) when you can select a few cells and have the program do it for you?
  • Formulas: When you need more than a quick tabulation, formulas do the job. They let you apply a complex equation to specified cells on the fly. Look for a program that offers a range of formula types.
  • Charts and graphs:  No one wants to scrutinize a table of numbers to figure out what you're trying to tell them. Make sure the spreadsheet program can easily turn those data sets into a range of good-looking charts and graphs.
  • Pivot tables: Don't know what they are or how to use them? Neither do we, but there's probably one person in your organization who can't live without them—usually the person who tracks where the money comes in and goes out. 

The Presentations Application

Digital slide presentations are a necessary evil in the business world. Everyone says they hate them, yet everyone expects you to give one. A better presentation package lets you make a good impression without having to have a design degree. Look for software that includes these features.

  • Stylized templates: You have trouble matching your belt to your shoes, so how are you going to properly mix typefaces, color schemes, and graphic elements to come up with something pleasing yet effective? Make sure the presentation package has a wide variety of templates to use as a starting point.
  • Transitions and animations: Admittedly, folks got a little crazy with slick transition effects (3D page-turn, anyone?) when they were first introduced, but that's not to say they aren't useful for jazzing things up. Look for a few tasteful options in the menu, along with options to easily add animation effects (such as an arrow that slides in from the side) to highlight key points.
  • Audio and video: A better presentation package lets you insert audio and video clips with a few clicks of the mouse.
  • Spell check:  The only thing worse than a typo in a word processing document is one in 48-point type projected onto a wall. Be sure the presentation package provides on-the-fly spell checking to flag your mistakes.
  • Export to PDF:  Unless you own a printing business, you will undoubtedly distribute your presentation electronically. Be sure the presentation package lets you save the document as a PDF file so that other people can open it easily. The capability to save your presentation as a Microsoft PowerPoint file (.ppt/.pptx) wouldn't hurt.

Other Online Office Suite Features to Consider

Beyond the applications themselves, a cloud office suite will include features not found with a desktop program. You'll be granted a certain amount of storage space for your files (say, 10GB per person), and you can expect collaboration features that let multiple people access and work on files. Some service providers also have mobile apps for smartphones and tablets, which let you and your employees open and edit files on any Internet-connected device.

Most providers also deliver other services in the cloud, either as part of your subscription or for extra cost (depending on the plan you choose). You might find an application to hold online meetings, a CRM (customer relationship management) component, website building and hosting, and more.

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This article was originally published on January 28, 2014
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