Do you really need to plunk down hundreds of dollars to install a productivity suite such as Microsoft Office or Corel WordPerfect on your hard drive? Zoho Office Suite beta offers a complete line of Web-based office software for free. The company adds new features regularly, such as an offline component that lets you access files without an Internet connection. And now Zoho has better tied together the suite by displaying all documents in one place.
The apps within the Zoho Office Suite beta include the Zoho Writer word processor; Sheet for spreadsheets; Show, which is similar to PowerPoint; and the Virtual Office dashboard to tie everything together. Setup takes a few moments. Just visit zoho.com and establish a sign-in name and a password. Zoho also lets users sign on to the Suite's various services with a single ID.
Similarly, Zoho is the only company so far that has provided a plugin for the new Microsoft Office 2007 software. This free tool took us a minute or two to download and set up. With that done, we were able to press a button within Microsoft Word and Excel 2007 and instantly save our work to Zoho's servers. Although you'll have to save stuff in Office 2007 as backward-compatible files first for Zoho's purposes (only ThinkFree Office, Corel WordPerfect X3 and Apple iWork can read OOXML so far), this allows you to take word processing and spreadsheet work on the road and access it from a Web browser. Zoho has also partnered with so you can access Zoho files from your Windows desktop without opening a browser.
We like the look and feel of Zoho's services, which arrange major functions along the top of the page; just hover over an icon to read what it does. A right-click of the mouse will display common editing functions, but sometimes we couldn't get keyboard shortcuts, such as Ctrl-Z for undo, to work. Zoho makes it a snap to share your files with a public URL, or feed, or to invite individual users to collaborate on edits. Among Zoho's services, we had the least number of problems testing Zoho Writer word processor (which we reviewed on its own), with which you can import, export, share documents, and even make blog posts.
Zoho Show beta lets you make basic presentations, either plain or from 8 templates. We like that you can embed HTML snippets to insert charts and so on. Even cooler would be the ability to insert a chart from Zoho Sheet, but we couldn't find such integration during our beta tests. We sometimes found it easy to lose our place while switching among Zoho's various online apps, each which opens a separate browser window or tab.