Your Small Business Office in the Cloud - Page 2

By Helen Bradley

A Selection of Online Office Applications

The most popular online office applications include Google Docs, Microsoft Web Apps and Zoho. Both Google Docs and Zoho focus on providing an online office application service. They're not an adjunct to an offline product, which is the business model for many other free online office applications.

You can integrate Microsoft Office Web apps with your Microsoft Office software offline, but they're accessible even if you don't own Microsoft Office. Microsoft Office 365, recently out of beta testing and available to anyone in 40 markets around the world, is another serious option to consider.

Google Docs

Google Docs offers a spreadsheet, word processor and presentation application and has been around for a few years. While Google Docs has been a little slow to provide core features in its applications, they're updated and improved regularly.

Recently, for example, Google added conditional formatting and pivot tables to the spreadsheet -- features that are important for analyzing data in a business environment. Google Docs also offers good sharing and collaboration features, as well as an easy-to-use interface. Like Microsoft Office Web Apps, it operates from a central dashboard interface making it easy to see all your documents.


Zoho first launched in 2005, and it offers an extraordinarily large range of business applications in addition to the basic spreadsheet, presentation, and word processor productivity tools. These other applications include chat, discussions, mail, meeting, projects, a wiki, as well as business software such as accounting, CRM, invoicing and online HR.

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Product Summary
Sponsored: Google Apps is a cloud-based productivity suite that helps teams connect and collaborate from anywhere on any device.
Microsoft's Office 365 adds secure, anywhere access to the Office suite, enabling teams to communicate and collaborate.
Zoho Office for SharePoint has multi-user concurrent editing capabilities that enable several users to open the same document at the same time.
ThinkFree Office is a MS Office-compatible productivity suite for creating word-processing documents, spreadsheets, and graphic presentations.
LibreOffice is a free, libre and open source personal productivity suite featuring six document-production and data-processing applications.

There are more applications to be found there than most businesses would need -- the basics are free and others are available for a fee; check out the pricing list. Zoho applications are less integrated than Google Docs or Microsoft Office Web Apps. For example, you don’t get a central dashboard interface that shows you where everything is located. But for sheer weight of online business software applications, no other service comes anywhere near it.

Microsoft Office Web Apps; small business software
Like Google Docs, Microsoft Office Web Apps operates from a dashboard-style interface.
(Click for larger image)

Microsoft Office Web Apps

Microsoft was a late starter in the world of free online office applications, but it is impossible to ignore. With a Windows Live ID you can sign up for free access to cut-down versions of Excel, Word, PowerPoint and OneNote online.

You don't have to own Microsoft Office, but if you do you can easily integrate the online service with your offline software. You could, for example, save a file from an offline version of Excel direct to Skydrive folder, and the file will become immediately available online and accessible to people with whom you share that folder.

Office online is handy if you needs t work with others who use Microsoft Office, or if you use Microsoft Office at work and want the benefits of using it at home and elsewhere without having to shell out for a full version.

Microsoft Office 365

While still too new for it to be deemed "most popular," Office 365 offers a compelling online suite of enterprise-level applications including Exchange Online for email, SharePoint Online for collaboration and Lync Online for unified communications. Most subscriptions to Office 365 include the aforementioned Office Web Apps. Pricing starts for as little as $6 per person, per month.

Whether you are looking for an application to take care of occasional computing needs while on the road, or you're looking for a free online alternative to a paid offline program, you'll find plenty to like in cloud-based small business software.

Helen Bradley is a respected international journalist writing regularly for small business and computer publications in the USA, Canada, South Africa, UK and Australia. You can learn more about her at her Web site, HelenBradley.com.

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This article was originally published on June 30, 2011
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