basics of Online Office Suites

It’s no wonder online suites are appealing: They offer the ability to have documents stored online and available anywhere you can access the Internet, no matter what

you’re using. There’s no software to download and install, no upgrading hassles when new features are added or bugs eliminated, and no upfront or ongoing expenses. The ability to share a document with several users without your own server is equally tempting, as is the price tag for many of these services: absolutely free.

We tested four popular online office suites — Ajax13, Google Docs & Spreadsheets, ThinkFree Online and Zoho Office Suite — focusing on the word processor and spreadsheet functionality of each suite. (A fifth candidate, gOffice, was disqualified. Though promoted as a free suite, it requires a 99-cent-per-month payment, which we didn’t learn about until we opened the registration page.)

Review: Four Free Online Office Suites

Google Docs & Spreadsheets
ThinkFree Office Online
Zoho Office Suite
We were looking for a good mix of features, speedy response and compatibility with Microsoft Office. All the suites in our roundup except Ajax13 let you publish your document on a public server, and most let you invite others to collaborate on the same document.

Online applications can be a mixed blessing, however, as these four suites show. If any server is stressed, you can’t necessarily access the application when you need it. This happened with both Ajax13 and Google Docs & Spreadsheets. Google was able to create a new document, but responded with, “The server encountered a temporary error and could not complete your request. Please try again in 30 seconds” when we tried to create a new spreadsheet. It was finally available 15 minutes later. That’s 15 minutes too long for most of us.

None of the suites in our roundup offers all the applications and features of Microsoft Office. But if you’re looking to use the core office applications in an access-anywhere format, at least two of the suites in our roundup are surprisingly sophisticated. From the pitiful to the powerful, here are the four suites we tested, presented in alphabetical order.

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