Web-based office suites is the latest competitive zone for Google, Microsoft and Zoho. In addition to the typical features of desktop productivity suites, each offering assures greater integration with the web, including collaboration and publishing features not available with traditional applications. 

No company is more jazzed about web-based applications than Google, so you'd expect its suite to be the best, right? Wrong. In fact, the most amazing thing about Google Docs turned out to be just how woefully inadequate for serious work it actually is. When you log in to Google Docs, you're greeted with a familiar, Google-style UI (user interface): spare, reserved, understated, even elegant. But while this trademark approach works wonders for Google's search products, with Google Docs it belies a paucity of features that's instantly frustrating.

Just for starters, forget about a smooth migration away from Microsoft Office. Google added support for Office 2007 file formats in June, but so what? Even with the older Office formats, Docs chokes on all but the most rudimentary formatting. If the goal was simply to mimic the current office paradigm on the web, Docs would be a miserable failure, but Google is looking at the bigger picture.

But most of us in the real world have given up on the 'paperless office', and once your feet land back on the ground, Docs disappoints once again. Joel Spolsky once wrote that the problem with lightweight office suites is that 80 percent of users need only 20 percent of the features of Microsoft Office, but it's a different 20 percent every time. Google Docs doesn't give you all of the features of Office and it doesn't try to. Unfortunately, in its present state it's missing so much that it's sure to lack something for just about everybody. Zoho offers a slightly different take. While Google Docs presents a Spartan UI that emphasizes the online aspect of the suite, Zoho makes more of an effort to mimic the look and feel of traditional desktop applications. The results might seem more familiar to new users, but they also underscore the limitations of this strategy.

Zoho has a few features that Google Docs lacks, but most are minor. For example, Google's word processor offers a robust equation editor based on the TeX language, but Zoho's equation editor is better. Zoho's thesaurus gives the part of speech for synonyms, while Google's does not. Zoho allows you to insert HTML (Hyper Text Marquee Language) and CSS (Cascading Style Sheets) directly from files on the web, rather than simply editing it in your browser as Google Docs allows you to do.

Like Google Docs, Zoho encourages web-based publishing and collaboration. Here, Zoho's minor advantages include the ability to post to blogs directly using the MetaWebLog or Blogger APIs, the ability to generate a 'doc roll' of recent documents for embedding in a web site, and integration with EchoSign for digital signatures.

Microsoft is also planning to offer several versions of its web-based Office at launch. The consumer version will be ad-supported and offer similar web-publishing features as its competitors. Microsoft will also offer a hosted subscription version for businesses, with improved document management and workflow features. Customers who prefer to run the suite on their own servers will be able to do so if they buy a volume license to Office 2010. 
Google believes that the web is the future and it's inevitable that document creation, publishing and collaboration will move online. If you agree with that vision, then online productivity software offering from a company as prominent as Google will naturally be attractive to you. 

Microsoft is moving to the web as a defensive measure, but its goal is not to replace the Office we have now. Rather, it has planned to augment its current offering with an online option. In that sense, the Office web applications will probably fill much the same niche as Outlook web access. They'll be invaluable for mobile workers, but where possible, most will stick with the desktop versions. In addition, by bringing support for the Microsoft Office file formats to the web, Microsoft further cements its status as the de facto standard for Office documents.

Don't be surprised if you find yourself using web-based productivity software in the near future; the online publishing and collaboration features are too valuable to ignore. At the same time, don't wipe your current office suite from your hard drive just yet. Although the current offerings are impressive, browser-based applicationss have a long way to go before they become the standard for business users. 

news source - siliconindia.com