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Allan Hoffman at ‘The Star Ledger‘ in an article titled ‘Internet Software challenges
‘ had the following to say about companies trying to offer web-based alternatives to the MS Office suite, citing Zoho as the primary example.

Trash Microsoft Office.

That’s the message from a number of startups offering alternatives to Microsoft’s well- entrenched programs for word processing, presentations and spread sheets.

In providing alternatives, these companies don’t just trot out garden-variety software. Their programs are Web-based, meaning you don’t have to install and update software on your personal computer; the programs simply run from inside your Web browser, mimicking the look and feel of typical desktop applications. To top it off, they’re free — at least for now.

Too good to be true? Well, yes and no, as I learned after trying out Zoho (www.zoho.com), one of the innovators in Web-based tools competing with Office.

As with other applications in the trend known as Web 2.0, Zoho requires nothing more than a quick sign-up in order to get started. Unfortunately, Zoho requires separate accounts for the programs in its office suite — Zoho Sheet, Zoho Show and Zoho Writer. But once you have your accounts and sign on, you’re up and running, with an application inside your browser ready to create text documents, craft presentations or perform cal culations.

Anyone familiar with Microsoft Excel, PowerPoint and Word should have a relatively easy time using these programs.

Among Zoho’s applications, the spreadsheet and word processing programs, in particular, provide many of the features frequently used by typical PC users. When you need to share your work with users of Office or other software, you can easily export (or import) your documents to standard formats.

The applications are particularly suitable for college students and mobile professionals interested in storing their work online, accessible from any computer. Others will enjoy Zoho’s sharing features. Zoho Writer, for instance, lets you make your documents public for others to read and offer comments, while Zoho Show will display your presentation online — a handy way to share a presentation with colleagues.

The software does have limitations. Zoho Writer only gives you seven different font sizes and limited font styles, while Zoho Show doesn’t offer anything close to the flexibility of PowerPoint.

That simplicity is a hallmark of many of the Web-based applications aiming to serve as Office substitutes.

We are working on a single sign-on and that should make things much easier for everyone using Zoho. And as is typical with any Web 2.0 application, like Zoho Writer & Zoho Sheet, Zoho Show will continue to evolve rapidly too.

And about tools like Zoho being web-based, Allan (like many others) had this to say,

Despite everything offered by these tools, I doubt droves of people will be abandoning Microsoft Office and other desktop office tools anytime soon. That’s not be cause of features or performance, but access. Unless you’re online, you don’t have the ability to run these programs.

Thanks to Allan for taking note of Zoho! And an answer to his concerns may be as stated here.