I never said I was perfect, but I usually like to think I've done a decent job when I review a product, taking a thorough look at all of its features. This time, however, I admit I'm incomplete. That's because Zoho Docs isn't just a competitor to Microsoft Office 365 and Google Apps, the earlier contenders in this series on home office productivity suites. It's the tip of a very large iceberg.
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Like Office Online or Google Apps, Zoho Docs provides browser-based word processing, spreadsheet, and presentation modules (called Writer, Sheet, and Show, respectively). These aren't nearly as crammed with features as the laptop- or desktop-installed Word, Excel, and PowerPoint, but they're a pleasant surprise for batting out quick, not-too-fancily formatted documents. You also get document sync, sharing, and collaboration features, plus Android and iOS apps so you can access your documents anytime from your PC, Mac, phone, or tablet.
The free version supports up to 25 users with 5 GB of cloud storage apiece. Paying $5 per user per month hikes the online storage to 50 GB per seat and adds task management and password-protected sharing. For $8 per user per month, you get 100 GB of cloud space, the ability to email files directly into Zoho Docs, and e-discovery for big corporations and litigation.
But Zoho's services don't begin and end with Docs. The productivity trio is just one (without even top billing) of more than 30 browser-based apps that, collectively, aspire to handle everything a business needs. Their functions include contact management, email (ad-free even in the free version, unlike Gmail and Outlook.com), human resources (HR) recruiting, invoicing, IT support, and online survey creation.
Among the company's marquee apps, Zoho Books is an accounting solution that challenges Intuit's QuickBooks Online. Zoho Projects offers tasks, milestones, Gantt charts, team chat, and many other options for project management (PM). Zoho CRM is a customer relationship management (CRM) package with lead tracking and email marketing tools that rival Salesforce.com (like Books and Projects, it's a PCMag Editors' Choice).
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Many of the Zoho apps are tightly integrated with one another and with other tools such as Dropbox and Google Apps. Nearly all offer a free version as well as a free 15-day trial of the paid version of your choice; Zoho is zealous in providing potential purchasers with tutorial webinars and phone calls. The apps' a la carte pricing can add up quickly if you decide to adopt a lot of them, but most offer discounts if you make annual rather than monthly payments.
Create, Share, Export
From Zoho Docs's opening display (which shows a chronological list of the files you've accessed), you can click a button to make a new word processing document, spreadsheet, presentation, or folder; upload files or folders from your PC, or fetch them from your Google Drive. Documents are checked for viruses and converted to Zoho format during upload; download format choices range from Office and OpenDocument Format (ODF) to ePub and PDF.
Zoho Writer can't handle multiple columns or math equations and it forgoes some formatting niceties. For instance, though the word processor offers both footnotes and endnotes, I can't find a way to change their font to match body text. Also, the option for typing "smart" or curly quotes lacks curly apostrophes. But Writer makes it easy to customize paragraph styles, create tables, and wrap text around images (though not around text boxes or pull quotes).
I was all set to knock Writer for its bland user interface (UI), which is just a row of pull-down menus and a toolbar at the top of the screen with no zoom command to get rid of the empty screen space on either side of the page display. But then I noticed a "Try New Version" button in the corner of the screen. Clicking it gives the program an attractive, apparently beta-test makeover. It comes with sharing and distribution options at top right, track changes and zoom functions at bottom right, and a Menu icon at top left that opens a control panel (reminiscent of Apple's Pages).
By contrast, Zoho Sheet sticks with the pull-downs-and-toolbar UI that's familiar to spreadsheet users everywhere. And most of its functions are familiar to spreadsheet users—from data filters to pivot tables (though it lacks Google Sheets' newbie-friendly suggestions or tool tips). You'll find 27 2D chart types, plus a handful of 3D ones, including candlestick, waterfall, and web charts.
Zoho Show offers yet another UI, with tabbed toolbars. It provides a variety of colorful presentation themes in both 16:9 and the older 4:3 screen aspect ratios, as well as a baker's dozen of transition effects between slides and a handful of animations for bulleted text slides. You can insert footers, images (including ones found in a Google search for the slide title), shapes, YouTube videos, and Twitter feeds. I had some minor frustrations, however, with adding elements to master slides and removing animations after changing my mind about them. Plus, I missed the extensive commenting options that are available in Sheet and Writer.
Indeed, most things about Zoho Docs show that it's designed for team efforts, from an on-screen chat area to extensive choices for sharing files and inviting colleagues to work on documents. As far as home offices are concerned, of the productivity platforms I've looked at so far, I'd call it the least suited for solo entrepreneurs or two- or three-person small businesses. But it could be just the ticket for telecommuters working at home for medium or large businesses that have adopted Zoho as their software solution.
Like its fellow browser-based suite Google Apps, Zoho Docs competes with Office Online but is stomped by the full-featured PC- or Mac-based Microsoft Office 2016. It shines, however, when teamed with Zoho's chat, CRM, PM, and other apps.
Have you drunk the online Kool-Aid and turned SOHO (small office/home office) into Zoho? Do you think any office suite can stand against the mighty Microsoft? Let me know in the comments or at email@example.com.