Review: With Microsoft Office 2007's relatively high price and steep learning curve, free Web-based office suites look mighty appealing. They do offer some interesting features, but should be looked at more as an Office adjunct than a replacement.
When Microsoft releases Office 2007 later in 2006, the major overhaul of the venerable office productivity suite is likely to spur an examination of lower-priced alternatives.
Competitors such as Sun Microsystems StarOffice,
OpenOffice.orgs OpenOffice and Corels WordPerfect are most often brought up as competitors, but a new crop of Web-based productivity tools is beginning to garner attentionand rightly so, based on eWEEK Labs tests.
The desire for capable Microsoft Office alternatives seems so strong, in fact, that Googles acquisition earlier this year of Upstartlethe company that developed online word processor Writelyignited rampant rumors that the search engine giant was planning to launch a Web-based Microsoft Office killer.
Google executives have denied the rumors, even after the beta release of Google Spreadsheets, an online spreadsheet application, in May.
But even without a "Google Office," applications such as Salesforce.coms CRM (customer relationship management) system have proven the viability of the Web-based app model within corporations.
eWEEK Labs has written plenty about traditional, offline desktop competitors to Office, but little about online competitors.
Click here to read eWEEK Labs review of ThinkFree Office 3.
We therefore recently put three Web-based office productivity suites to the test, to determine what the apps have to offer end users and whether they make sense for business use.
We evaluated ThinkFrees ThinkFree Office Online; Silveroffices GOffice; and Ajax 13s AjaxLaunch.
One of the most important things to consider when evaluating non-Office suites, especially in a corporate environment, is compatibility with Officebecause, even if your organization has decided it wants to avoid using Office, the Microsoft suite still commands more than 99 percent of the market and you cant avoid working with it.
To gauge compatibility with Office, we tested the online apps using a .doc document created in Office 2003, an .xls spreadsheet created in Excel 2003 and a .ppt created in PowerPoint 2003.
Read more here about eWEEK Labs evaluation of Microsofts Office 2007 Beta 2.
In general, we found a lot to like about the online productivity suites we tested, but they do lack a lot of the features and functionality that corporate users rely on.
We therefore believe that it will be a long time before conventional desktops office suites are overthrown.
Still, these Web-based apps offer some features we have yet to see in Office, particularly collaborative capabilities.
Online productivity suites also make it easy for users to create documents using computers that have an Internet connection but no office suite installed.
And because all the suites we looked at were free (or practically free), theyre very cost-effective, especially when compared to Office 2007 Professionals price of $499 a seat.
As with everything, IT managers must remember that you get what you pay for.
These online productivity suites offer little to no security, and they cant be used offline.
Our tests show that its best to think of these applications as adjuncts or extensions to offline productivity suites.
To read more about OpenOffice, click here.
Microsoft, along with full-featured desktop competitors such as StarOffice, OpenOffice.org and WordPerfect, have nothing to worry aboutfor now.