Zoho Workplace: My Favorite FREE Replacement for Microsoft Office

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.


From the site it seems to be directed towards businesses and high end users…is this available for the average user? Sounds like a great program.


    Zoho certainly is available to and useful for average users. It certainly is not limited to “high end users.” In fact, it is easier to use than Microsoft Word. I find Zoho Writer’s menus to be far less confusing that Microsoft’s “ribbon menus” that always strike me as being very non-intuitive.

    I have been using Zoho Writer for more than two years and have found it easy to use. It will look a bit “strange” when you use it the first time simply because it is different from whatever you are used to. However, I don’t think it is any more difficult to learn than the other word processors. In fact, for someone who has never seen either program, I suspect Zoho Writer will be easier to learn than Microsoft Word.


    Apologies, but when I went to sign up, they expected domain names and would not accept an email address and for “Name” they expected from 1-30 characters, numbers and acceptable signs. Without a domain name, I could go nowhere. Seemed odd.


    I signed up for Zoho two or three years ago. It is possible things have changed. I don’t remember every detail of the sign-up process but, if I was asked for a domain name, I undoubedly entered “eogn.com” simply because that is a domain name that I own.

    HOWEVER… Since signing up for Zoho, I have always used it as a single user. I do not have a “team” and typically do not share documents with others. I particularly like the word processor (Zoho Writer) because it is cloud-based; I can use it on any computer without installing any software, even a computer in a public library or a hotel’s business center. (I have done that several times.)

    In fact, if you go to https://www.zoho.com/writer/ the page has an icon that says “Start Writing.” Click on that and opens up Zoho Writer immediately. Anyone can use it.

    I have experimented with a few of the other services on Zoho but the Zoho Writer is the only one that I come back to again and again.


    Thank you! Very much more user friendly.



    I just went to a computer that has never been used on Zoho before. (It is a remote computer in a data center in Georgia.) I was asked for either an email address or a user name from Facebook, Google, or LinkedIn. I chose to enter an email address that I have never used before on Zoho. In other words, I became a brand-new Zoho user.

    I was not asked for a domain name nor was I asked for anything else. I only had to enter an email address and then, when a verification message was sent to that address, I had to click on a link in the verification message. I then went back to Zoho Writer and created a password. Nothing else. I wasn’t asked for a domain name, a physical address, or a credit card or any other personal information.

    Has anyone else encountered a request for a domain name when using Zoho?


    I appreciate the effort. When I tried Zoho Write, that is what I got. When I try https://www.zoho.com/workplace I got a different screen regarding adding new email names, domain…my own or buy a new one…then name and my password and my verification of the password. I could get nowhere on that site. But Zoho/write was quick,simple and then you get a few minutes of reviewing the many new upgrades…nice!


Is it possible to make a presentation using Zoho’s Show, offline?e I am aware that one can create, edit, etc. offline. However, I am called upon sometimes to make a presentation at a location that does not have Wi-Fi or other means of internet connection. If that were possible I’d be an instant user.


I use the 5 user option of Office 365 which I can generally renew at a reasonable discount. The principal reason is that although there is nothing obvious the spreadsheet I use to catalogue my census images (somewhere north of about 50,000) and record statistics does not seem to like other offerings including Numbers which comes with my Macs. Sizewise it reports as 15mb.


I’ve never thought MS Office was expensive, although I continue to hate the ribbon. I used to be able to buy it once and have installed my Office 2007 on any number of laptops/netbooks/desktops over the years. I paid $130 for it when I bought it. That’s a bargain when you pro-rate it over the years. Software developers *should* be paid for their work, really.
But they’ve changed the whole thing, however. I refuse to pay for a subscription because it means I’ve basically lost control of my own documents unless I’m paying for the subscription. It’s like leasing a car on an endless lease. Total nonstarter for me. My understanding is you can no longer just buy the software as a piece of software and not a subscription. Also, my computers don’t live forever so paying for a piece of software only good for one-shot installation in this age of multiple devices is another nonstarter.
I’ve tried Libre and Open Office and don’t like either of them. They are not nearly as compatible with MS Office, the standard software for business and any agency I’ve worked for, as users seem to think.I dread getting documents created in either of those two programs because I have to go over them to knock them into shape.
One piece of software that few people seem to appreciate is MS Publisher. I’ve been creating nice looking newsletter for many years using Pubby. I’m not a professional graphic designer so I don’t really want to get into the cost and time/energy investment required by higher level software. The other cheap software I’ve used lack the features of Publisher. It’s a really good middle ground and, again, not expensive over the years. Mine has paid for itself many times over in paid gigs.
I do love hearing of Dick’s experiences with computer software and new approaches and solutions.


    The other area of incompatibility is Visual Basic for Applications and Macros. I have a application written in VBA for Access and it wont run on these freebies.


Security — I think you would not use it if not secure. Can I encrypt before storing? Must I?


    —> Can I encrypt before storing?


    —> Must I?

    It is optional. Everything is under your control.

    Also, you are not required to save documents online to Zoho’s cloud. Instead, you can save files to your own computer’s hard drive, to a flash drive, or to some other cloud-based service, such as saving files to Dropbox, Google Drive, SpiderOak, or others. If you are willing to click on “SAVE AS…” 2 or 3 times, you can even save files to multiple places.


Wpsoffice is a other option I’m using because it’s very similar to Office but free as well. The writer is similar but includes a pdf to word converter and merge feature which is fantastic.
The Wpsoffice spreadsheet is also great.


I tried using Zoho Sheet back in 2012. Though I really liked many of its features and flexibility, I had to give up because of response time to simple input. I tried using it in different browsers, but that didn’t help. I went back to using an Open Office clone called NeoOffice. Since it resides on the computer, you don’t have to worry about internet connectivity and browser issues. I can save my spreadsheets in the cloud (Google Drive, Apple’s iCloud, etc.) so I have access on the road. Anyway, that was my story. Your mileage may vary.


I have been using Word Perfect, as it is the easiest system to work with. However, since Windows 10, the system is not working well. Are there any Cloud apps that can upload my WP files?


    —> Are there any Cloud apps that can upload my WP files?

    I haven’t checked ALL the could-based word processing apps but believe the answer for many of them is, “No, they won’t read wordPerfect files.” Zoho can handle any of the following word processing formats: doc, rtf, docx, html, pdf, txt, sxw, odt.

    However, there is an easy solution: use a different program or online service to convert the WordPerfect files to a more commonly-used format, then import the converted file into the word processor.

    Read my article, Use CloudConvert to Convert a File from One Format to Another, that is at: https://blog.eogn.com/2016/03/04/use-cloudconvert-to-convert-a-file-from-one-format-to-another/

    CloudConvert will easily convert WordPerfect Document into any of a dozen or so other formats. Best of all, it is available free of charge.

    I am sure there are other file conversion services that will also do the same thing. However, CloudConvert.com is the one I always use and therefore I am the most familiar with it.


My son often has to use MLS Format for his college papers. Does Zoho have that as an optional “template”?


Thanks for this post. I have been a happy user of Zoho products for many years. I have even pointed my own domain’s mail record to Zoho so that I can use a custom email address (ie me@mydomain.com). I just wanted to point out Zoho’s biggest feature, there are no ads! They don’t scan your email or documents to market to you, they don’t collect and sell your personal data, and they don’t clutter up your work space with ads. This is very rare in the cloud era and virtually unheard of in the free category. They make their money by getting you hooked on free and as you grow and need more advanced features they convert you into a paying customer. They have close to 40 apps, not all available for free, and some very technical. They are all very good. Full disclosure: I have no relationship with Zoho other than being a very happy user.


I couldn’t find a free version. The “basic” version costs $2 p/month billed annually or $3 p/m billed monthly. Is this a change in policy or am I looking in the wrong place?


It looks like it’s just free now for up to 5 users and you must enter a domain name that you own (or they give you the option to purchase one).
Up to five users.
5GB/User, 25MB attachment limit.
Web access only. Email hosting for single domain.”


    “Email hosting for a single domain” is optional, not required. While I do own several domain names, I never used any of them when I signed up with Zoho.

    You are right, however, that if you want a group of more than five users to share read/write access to your documents saved on Zoho.com, you will need to open a (paid) business account. I have a free account and do not share my Zoho documents with anyone.

    However, you are not required to save your documents on Zoho.com. I rarely save my documents on Zoho.com. Instead, I usually save my documents in a different file storage service in the cloud where I can access them from anywhere and from any computer, such as this morning as I am using an iPad from a hotel room at the Dallas/Fort Worth airport.


Leave a Reply

Name and email address are required. Your email address will not be published.

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

You may use these HTML tags and attributes:

<a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <pre> <q cite=""> <s> <strike> <strong> 

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

%d bloggers like this: