Small Business Guide to Online Office Suites - Page 3

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The Top 3 Online Office Suites for Small Business

We took a look at three leading online office suites to see how they stack up. One of them should suit your business.

Microsoft Office 365 Small Business Premium

Microsoft Office is the 800-pound gorilla of desktop office suites, but it was a relative latecomer to the cloud. But Office 365 has a couple of aces in its hand that make it a must-consider for small businesses. Most importantly, some editions of the online suite—such as the Microsoft Office 365 Small Business Premium version we looked at—include a desktop version of Office 365.

First, each employee you add to your subscription can use Office on Demand (the cloud applications, supported on Windows 7 and Windows 8 PCs) or good old Office locally installed on a PC. The second ace: The cloud versions of the applications have the same look, feel and features of their desktop counterparts. That completely eliminates the learning curve for anyone already familiar with Office.

The suite includes local and cloud versions of Word, Excel, Outlook, PowerPoint, and OneNote (the excellent note-taking app)—plus local versions of Publisher, the desktop publishing program, and Access database. You also get the Office Mobile mobile app, (downloadable for Android, iOS and Windows Phone devices) for viewing and editing Word, Excel and PowerPoint documents. You can also use the OneNote, Outlook Web App, Lync Mobile, and SharePoint Newsfeed apps on most mobile devices.

As for storage, the subscription includes access to Microsoft's SkyDrive Pro cloud storage/collaboration service and provides 25GB of storage for each employee for (virtually) anywhere access to their documents. SkyDrive Pro also lets you share files with other people inside and outside your organization, control which people can see and edit each file, and sync files with PCs and mobile devices.

For email, Outlook delivers a 50GB mailbox per user and supports sending attachments up to 25MB in size. (And yes, you can use your domain name in email addresses for a professional look.)

Microsoft includes a host of extra features. The included Lync application lets you host online meetings with audio, HD video and one-click screen sharing. You can connect with other Lync users via instant message, voice calls, and video calls, and you can let people know your availability with your online status.

A Team Sites feature allows access to (and sharing of) documents with team members and it includes 10GB of baseline storage, plus 500MB of storage per person. Microsoft Office 365 Small Business Premium even includes website hosting and templates and tools to build your website—with no additional monthly hosting fees. The service costs $15 per person per month, or you can opt to pay $150 per person annually, which works out to $12.50 per month.

Google Apps for Business

One of the earliest, best-known—and free—online office suites, Google Apps has garnered a large following. But business customers will want to step up to the paid version, which delivers professional-level features such as email addresses with your domain name, more storage and videoconferencing features.

Google Apps spreadsheet

Figure 3: Google Apps includes Sheets to handle small business spreadsheet tasks.

The heart of Google Apps for Business is Google Docs, which includes a word processor (Docs), spreadsheet (Sheets) and presentation package (Slides). Those tightly integrate with the Google Drive online storage service (30GB per person included in the base subscription). Drive gives you access to your files from anywhere, across Mac, PC, and mobile devices; simply log on to Drive to see your files, and then double-click on one to open it in the associated application.

You can also download the Drive app to your PC, and it will automatically sync files from your computer to the cloud; update a file on one device, and the changes are automatically saved to Drive and your other devices.

The familiar Gmail component offers 30GB of mailbox storage per user, custom email addresses, labels and folders, spell check, a translation feature, and of course unparalleled search capabilities.  And it integrates tightly with the included Calendar application that lets you schedule events and see the availability of other Calendar users.

The cloud-based office suite also includes Hangouts, Google's video-chat application that lets you quickly initiate video calls with team members and people outside your organization (a maximum of 15 participants). Again, integration is the name of the game: you can schedule a Hangout from Calendar, start a chat from your inbox, or collaborate on a Google Drive file during a video meeting.

The Sites application lets you build a website or a specific project team site that can be private to a specified group or shared with other people. Google Apps for Business costs $5 per person per month, and you can add Vault (archiving, e-discovery and information governance capabilities) for an additional $5 per person, per month.

Zoho Productivity Apps

Zoho is an entire universe of cloud applications for all aspects of your business. Zoho Business Apps includes a CRM application, contact manager, online bookkeeping and invoicing, email marketing and much more.

The Collaboration Apps deliver a chat program, discussion groups, an online meetings application, mail program, project management, and a Docs app for storing and sharing documents online. On the office applications front, Zoho has a Productivity Apps  portal that offers calendar, notebook, word processor, spreadsheet and presentation applications.

The office productivity applications are remarkably full-featured, and the menu structure mimics Microsoft Office, so using them won't be such a departure for you and your employees. You can create a new document directly in the application, or upload files to private and shared folders and launch them from there.

Best of all, the productivity applications don't cost anything. If you opt to add other applications, such as Zoho CRM, you can stick with the free editions or upgrade to more full-featured paid versions.

Do you have a comment or question about this article or other small business topics in general? Speak out in the SmallBusinessComputing.com Forums. Join the discussion today!

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This article was originally published on January 28, 2014
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