Microsoft Office Web Apps vs. Google Docs and Zoho: Office suites in the cloud

One key advantage for Microsoft's Web apps: amazing fidelity to the desktop-bound Word, Excel and PowerPoint formats

1 2 3 4 5 Page 5
Page 5 of 5

Microsoft plans to offer several versions of its Web-based Office at launch. The consumer version will be ad-supported and offer similar Web-publishing features as its competitors (including the ability to embed Word documents in Web pages, formatting and all). Microsoft will also offer a hosted subscription version for businesses, with improved document management and workflow features. Customers who prefer to run the suite on their own servers will be able to do so if they buy a volume license to Office 2010.

That last option underlines Microsoft's view of Office Web Apps as a companion to the traditional desktop suite, not a substitute. Promised integration between Office Web Apps and Office 2010 will allow Office 2010 users to save documents to the Web and open them from the Web directly.

I didn't manage to get Office Web Apps working with the Technical Preview of Office 2010, but I did get it working with Office 2007 on Vista. I needed to be using Internet Explorer to make it work. I could click "Open in Word" in Word Web App and the document would download and open in Office 2007. From there I could make changes, and when I hit Ctrl-S the changes would be saved back to the document stored online. If I then reloaded the document in the Word Web App, I would see all the changes.

It's nothing more impressive than what you can do right now when you open a Word document from a networked share, but it shows how Microsoft is thinking about Office Web Apps and the desktop apps as a unified whole.

Why the Web?

When it came down to it, none of the three Web-based productivity suites I tried proved an adequate substitute for traditional desktop software. To be fair, all three are works in progress. But as someone who spends most of his day in Microsoft Office, I needed mere minutes to find some area where each of the online alternatives failed to live up to what I can already do on my desktop today.

So what do these three efforts, ambitious though they are, really hope to achieve? The answer may lie in the disparate business models of the three competitors and the separate niche that each hopes to carve for itself.

Google believes the Web is the future and it's inevitable that document creation, publishing, and collaboration will move online. If you agree with that vision, then an online productivity software offering from a company as prominent as Google will naturally be attractive to you. Just realize that Google's vision is also self-serving: Its core business is search, so it prefers your documents to be online, regardless of whether that's really an advantage.

Zoho's is more of a pure SaaS play, in which the whole may be more important than the quality of its parts. In other words, although Zoho's broad suite of Web-based apps may not give you everything you can get with desktop software, it might be enough. More important, its pricing structure and the fact that SaaS eliminates the need for in-house IT staff may be appealing enough to small businesses on tight budgets that they'll be willing to forgo some of the capabilities of more traditional applications.

Microsoft, on the other hand, is undoubtedly moving to the Web as a defensive measure, but its goal is not to replace the Office we have now. Rather, it plans to augment its current offering with an online option. In that sense, the Office Web Apps will probably fill much the same niche as Outlook Web Access: They'll be invaluable for mobile workers, but where possible, most will stick with the desktop versions. In addition, by bringing support for the Microsoft Office file formats to the Web, Microsoft further cements its status as the de facto standard for office documents.

I suspect Microsoft's model will resonate best with most customers. Don't be surprised if you find yourself using Web-based productivity software in the near future; the online publishing and collaboration features are too valuable to ignore. At the same time, don't wipe your current office suite from your hard drive just yet. Although the current offerings are impressive, browser-based apps have a long way to go before they become the standard for business users.

Related Microsoft Office stories

This story, "Office suites in the cloud: Microsoft Office Web Apps versus Google Docs and Zoho," was originally published at Follow the latest developments in applications, cloud computing, and Microsoft Office at

Neil McAllister is a freelance writer based in San Francisco. He also writes InfoWorld's Fatal Exception blog.

This story, "Microsoft Office Web Apps vs. Google Docs and Zoho: Office suites in the cloud" was originally published by InfoWorld.

Copyright © 2009 IDG Communications, Inc.

1 2 3 4 5 Page 5
Page 5 of 5
It’s time to break the ChatGPT habit
Shop Tech Products at Amazon