Microsoft Office has been the leading word processing/spreadsheet/presentation program for a couple of decades, maybe longer. It is powerful, feature-rich, and able to create files that are universally compatible with all sorts of other programs. There is only one major drawback: Microsoft Office is very expensive.
Prices for Microsoft Office vary from about $80 to around $350, depending upon the version selected. The more expensive versions typically are bundled with additional Microsoft programs, useful primarily in corporations or other environments where groups of people work together on shared projects.
Another big drawback is that the price is charged PER COMPUTER. If you own two computers, perhaps a desktop system and a laptop system, you need to pay twice in order to comply with the shrink-wrapped licensing agreement that you agreed to abide by when installing the product.
NOTE: There is a subscription-based version of Microsoft Office, called Microsoft Office 365 Home, that offers reduced prices for installation on up to 5 computers. While cheaper than the individual copies, the price tag of $75 or more for 5 systems is still expensive.
There is even a free version of Microsoft Office for Chromebooks. However, Microsoft Office for Chromebooks is not the full version of Office. Instead, it has been “dummied down” by removing a number of components. This seems especially surprising as there are other word processors for Chromebooks that are much more powerful. The decision to “dummy down” Microsoft Office for Chromebooks seems to be due to a business decision, not due to any restriction in the processing power of Chromebooks. In fact, most Chromebooks of today possess more processing power than did the normal Windows computer of only a few years ago, systems that ran the full version of Microsoft Office available at that time with no restrictions at all.
Luckily, there are cheaper office automation programs for all operating systems, including several such programs that are FREE.
For years I used OpenOffice and then later switched to LibreOffice, free open-source products that include full-featured word processing, spreadsheet, and presentation programs. They are both available for Windows, Macintosh, and several versions of Linux. OpenOffice and LibreOffice are two very similar products. In fact, both programs share the same “family tree.”
OpenOffice was the first of the two products to appear. The free software was developed by programmers who donated their spare time and talents to the project.
A difference of opinion amongst the programmers eventually led to a split in the group. Most of the programmers left the OpenOffice project and started a new, competitive project. The new project was named LibreOffice. (“Libre” means free.) Since the split, most of the development effort has gone into LibreOffice while OpenOffice has received only minor upgrades. I find the LibreOffice product to have a more intuitive user interface than OpenOffice. However, both of them remain as excellent products and both are available FREE of charge to everyone.
The biggest drawbacks that I see to both OpenOffice and LibreOffice are: (1.) each free program needs to be installed in each computer in which it is to be used and (2.) if you use two or more computers, sharing files between those computers must be done by some means external to the programs. For instance, many people email the files back and forth between a desktop and a laptop computer. Others might keep the files on a flash drive that they move between systems.
While sharing files this way (often called “sneakernet”) is effective, it seems very old-fashioned in this day and age of cloud-based solutions. More than once, I have been traveling with a laptop computer and found that I had forgotten to copy a critical file from my desktop system to that laptop.
Luckily, cloud-based products eliminate these problems.
For some time, I used a combination of Google Drive, a wildly popular cloud-based file storage solution, and Google Docs, a rather simplistic word processor/spreadsheet/presentation program that you access and use online.
You can store any kind of files in Google Drive and then access them from any smartphone, tablet, or computer via your web browser. You can do the same for any files you create in Google Docs. Wherever you go, your files follow. It is nice to always have all your word processing, spreadsheet, and presentation files available anyplace you have an Internet connection. While the Google Docs programs are sufficient for simpler tasks, they do not match the power of Microsoft Office.
I have successfully given presentations to groups using an iPad or a low-cost Chromebook laptop computer and Google Docs as a substitute for PowerPoint and a Windows or Macintosh laptop. The result was a cheaper investment in hardware and better reliability as the files are always easily accessible anyplace a wifi or cellular network connection is available. That includes most places these days. It is rare that I find myself without Internet access.
However, I was still frustrated by the simplicity of Google Docs. While Google Docs is a word processor, spreadsheet, and presentation suite of programs, it does not have nearly the capability of Microsoft Office. Many times I said to myself, “I know how to do that in LibreOffice or in Microsoft Office, but how do I do the same thing in Google Docs?” It seems the answer frequently is, “You can’t.”
Then I found a better solution: Zoho Workplace.
Zoho is probably the most prolific producer of cloud-based software that you never heard of. Zoho produces all sorts of programs for both personal and business use. The variety of available programs include CRM (Customer Relationship Management programs that compete with Oracle), accounting products, a very powerful email program, tools for use by software developers, help desk products for use in corporate customer service operations, online chat software, a wiki, web site monitoring, bug tracking software, online surveys, off-site file storage services, and many more products. Most of these products can be used online without installing programs in your computer. Most of them also cost money but there are exceptions. For instance, you and I and any small groups we work with can take advantage of Zoho’s office programs for the best price of all: FREE.
Zoho has bundled its 9 most popular products under the title “Zoho Workplace.” It includes the programs that compete with Microsoft Office, OpenOffice, and LibreOffice – text editor Zoho Writer, spreadsheets Zoho Sheet, presentations Zoho Show (with audience engagement tool Zoho Showtime) – plus its own cloud storage called Zoho Docs, email Zoho Mail, intranet messenger Zoho Chat, site builder Zoho Sites, and internal social network Zoho Connect.
A complete list of all Zoho products may be found at https://www.zoho.com.
For the remainder of this article I will focus on Zoho Workplace, the bundle that includes word processor/spreadsheet/presentation programs. Zoho Workplace is available FREE of charge to individual users and to small groups that need to share documents.
NOTE: Zoho starts charging for its Workplace product when used by teams of 50 users or more. If your “team” is smaller than 50 users, Zoho Workplace is available to your team free of charge. You can legally use Zoho Workplace for your spouse, children, parents, and perhaps for all the authors of your local genealogy society’s newsletter as long as that group contains 50 users or less. (Fifty users is really 25 normal users plus up to 25 more “referral users” in which an existing Zoho user referred someone else to the Zoho service.) Zoho does charge a license fee for use in corporate environments where larger teams of users use the product.
Zoho Workplace is a competitor to Microsoft Office, OpenOffice, LibreOffice, Google Docs, and similar office automation products. It also can read and write documents that were created with Microsoft Office, OpenOffice, LibreOffice, Google Docs, and similar office automation products. (Some minor changes to fonts and formatting may occur when using files created by other programs.)
Zoho Workplace is significantly more powerful than Google Docs, although not as powerful as the expensive Microsoft Office. Still, with a price tag of FREE, I can accept some limitations, especially for those features that I never use anyway.
Zoho Workplace works well with a Chromebook, a Windows system, a Macintosh, or even with an iPad or Android tablet. It will even work with an iPhone or Android phone although you probably will find the small screen of those handheld devices to be too confining. That’s not a software restriction; it is simply a fact of life when using any tiny screen to read, write, or review larger documents. I use Zoho Workplace often on both Chromebook and Macintosh computers. It works equally well with an iPad, with Windows, and with Linux.
Zoho Workplace also has an option to download files from the shared file space in the cloud and keep them on the local computer’s hard drive. The user can then work on the files offline and even create new files while not connected to the Internet. Once connected online at a later date, the new and modified files will automatically be copied back to Zoho Workplace’s shared file space.
Zoho Workplace works well for small teams as well as for individuals. All the tools you will ever need to create, collaborate, and communicate with your teams are available in this one integrated suite of apps. If you’ve been working in isolation, this could be your chance to try a group effort. For example, you could get some help on that story about your grandparents’ lives by sharing that story and related pictures and other documents with your cousins so that all of you could see the changes to the story as each cousin contributes. If your society has members with different areas of expertise, you could have them comment on your article or presentation at their convenience and then review their notes at your own convenience.
The free version of Zoho Workplace includes up to 5 gigabytes of file space, which an individual can either use alone or share with members of a team. Of course, users can store even more files within other resources such as Google Drive, Dropbox, SugarSync, SpiderOak, iCloud, flash drives, or the internal hard drive on each user’s own computer. However, only the 5 gigabytes within the shared file space is visible to others. Additional shared storage space is available for a fee.
Zoho Workplace has the most powerful word processor I have seen in any of the free cloud-based products. The word processor is called Zoho Writer. Any user can create and edit word documents online with ease. Files may be shared with team members or not, as the user chooses.
I find Zoho Workplace to be much more powerful than Google Docs. I especially like its review system; editors can “mark up” a document written by someone else, and then the original author (and others) can optionally see both the original document and the suggested changes. I also like the fact that Zoho Workplace works well on a Chromebook, my favorite laptop for use when traveling. Yet I can share documents with Windows, Macintosh, iPad, Android tablet, and Linux users.
Like Google Drive, Zoho Workplace provides one place to create and save all your work, upload attachments from email or your desktop, and (optionally) share.
Do I like Zoho Workplace? You bet I do!
With a price tag of free, a minimalist user interface that becomes familiar after using it for only a short time, and the ability to optionally share documents amongst team members without sending them by email, Zoho Workplace puts group collaboration at the forefront of cloud-based work. With a Chromebook, a Windows system, a Macintosh, or even with an iPad or Android tablet, I can create and edit word documents, spreadsheets, and presentations online with ease.
Zoho Workplace is available at https://www.zoho.com/workplace.
In order to use Zoho Workplace, you will have to sign up for a free account. After all, that is how you obtain the free file space, including the shared file space. When I created a free account a year or so ago, I was not asked for a credit card number.
For more information, go to https://www.zoho.com/workplace.
You also might want to learn about some of the other Zoho products, both paid and free, by going to https://www.zoho.com.
NOTE: This article was written with Zoho Writer, the word processing component of Zoho Workplace.