Zoho Writer, Sheet and Show Review

by Reads (19,319)
  • Pros

    • Free
    • Very easy to use
    • Slick collaboration features
  • Cons

    • Can't handle large files
    • Format conversions are rough
    • Limited offline syncing

Zoho is a free Web-based productivity suite aimed squarely at the MS Office crowd. Does Zoho have what it takes to convince you leave Microsoft’s high-priced businessware behind, or is it just another cloud-based pretender? We break it down in this review.

PRODUCT OVERVIEW

The easiest description of Zoho is Google Docs on steroids, though that doesn’t do the full product justice. The Zoho crew is actually trying to build free web-based versions of almost every type of business and productivity software, including CRM tools, Web conferencing, and forum hosting. Their flagship apps — and the ones we’ll focus on in this review — are the Zoho Writer word processor, the Zoho Sheet spreadsheet app, and Zoho Show presentation app.

Zoho application list

Like most Web-based applications, Zoho can’t offer the richness of features that are found in Microsoft Office, OpenOffice, or any conventional productivity software. On the other hand, as a Web-based app, Zoho offers collaboration, sharing, and publishing tools that MS Office is only just now figuring out. That said, the primary appeal of Zoho and is two-fold: You can access your documents from any Web-connected PC, and the apps are free.

As an added bonus, you can create a Zoho account, or sign in with your Google or Yahoo credentials. Unfortunately, even though your Google Docs login is viable, there seems to be no obvious, direct way to bulk-import all your Google docs files into Zoho. A minor quibble, but one that would have enticed us to take Zoho a little more seriously.

ZOHO WRITER

Zoho Writer

Zoho Writer can handle most any document format you throw at it, including the elusive docx MS Office 2007 filetype, but you can expect to do a bit of format correction once you’ve got your stuff into Writer. The usual slate of word-processing tools are available in a familiar (which is to say pre-ribbon) format. The interface is also more polished and refined than what you’ll find in Google Docs; Zoho Writer feels more like a “real” word processor.

For those of you that like to work on multiple documents at once, Zoho offers nice tabbing features that let you quickly toggle between active files. The autosave is quick and rescues you from losing work due to connectivity drops (thanks, airport Wi-Fi). Writer even includes a serviceable mail-merge feature.

MS Word power-users (like me) will, however, note some shortcomings. First, Writer can’t handle larger files, with an apparent limit around one megabyte. Odds are you won’t be writing a novel in Zoho. Diacritical marks aren’t available for us format-obsessives, nor is a section-based word count; you can only get a running word count of the whole document. The spellcheck option, shown below, is pretty slick, but no grammar-check option is available. My personal favorite Word trick, using find-replace to alter document formatting, is impossible in Writer. There is a Google Gears-equivalent offline work mode, though it is unfortunately only available for Zoho Writer, not Sheet or Show.

Zoho Writer spellcheck

Document collaboration is where Zoho Writer shines. You can add true collaborators, who can edit a document, or strict viewers, who can look but not touch. You can also publish a document to the Web for general viewership. Frankly, for anyone who has ever worked on a group project, these kinds of features are a lifesaver, as it saves you from version tracking and e-mailing documents to team members.

For basic day-to-day word processing, Writer is more than adequate. For those of us whose livelihoods depend on the written word, Zoho Writer falls a bit short. Since most users are in the former camp, Zoho Writer is good enough to be considered as a basic MS Word alternate.

ZOHO SHEET

Zoho Sheet

Zoho Sheet was something of a disappointment compared to Writer. While Sheet seemed to handle MS Excel macros with more ease than Google Docs, the filesize restrictions really became apparent here. Zoho couldn’t even begin to import the massive Dungeons & Dragons Character Sheet we use to crash-test spreadsheet programs. (Trust us; you won’t find a more graphics- and macro-laden spreadsheet. If your app can handle D&D formulas, it can handle anything.) For those of us that crunch huge datasets in our spreadsheets, Zoho Sheet just isn’t up to snuff.

If you can get by the filesize problem, Zoho Sheet covers the basics very well. Formula-writing aids and basic calculation functions are all readily visible and useable. The same collaboration features that make Writer so tempting also redeem the value of Sheet. Again, if you’re just building an address book spreadsheet to run a mail-merge or are dealing with common, non-enterprise datasets, Zoho Sheet will do just fine. It’s when you need to do the real workplace-worthy stuff — like link to SQL databases or build a pivot table — that Sheet will abandon you.

ZOHO SHOW

Zoho Show

Zoho Show genuinely surprised me, especially given how much slicker the interface seemed when compared to Google Docs. For all that beautification, I can’t say that Show was actually any better than Google Docs at presentations, and that was a pretty low bar to cross. Show has a fairly nice selection of background themes, and you can embed a wide variety of Web gadgets (like YouTube videos) directly into presentations, but beyond that all the functions are rough.

Transitions, incremental reveals, centering and formatting aids, and advanced effects are either crippled or missing. Given how often these tools are abused in PowerPoint, this may seem a blessing, but that notion falls down when you import or export from Zoho Show. Despite robust filetype import/export support, you’ll have to tinker with the formatting of almost any slide you send into or out of Show, which is sometimes more trouble than it’s worth. Again, the collaboration options are compelling here — especially for group presentations — but that’s the nicest thing you can say about Show, and that isn’t nice enough.

CONCLUSION

Zoho is like Google Docs, only more refined. For the average user — especially the one that doesn’t regularly create advanced spreadsheets or presentations — will find Zoho a capable MS Office replacement. Anyone who collaboratively creates documents will find the sharing features robust. But if you’re any kind of MS Office power-user, Zoho’s three main apps are a bit too raw for comfort. Of course, given that Zoho’s flagship trio are available for free salves many of those not-quite-Office irritations. Bottom line: Zoho is good enough for the home, but it can’t replace Office in most offices.

PROS

  • Free
  • Very easy to use
  • Slick collaboration features

CONS

  • Can’t handle large files
  • Format conversions are rough
  • Limited offline syncing


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