This morning Zoho will release their latest Web Office app, Meeting, as a public beta. It's a good opportunity to consider what progress each of the main Web Office vendors is making towards a full Web Office Suite. For this post, we'll consider Google Apps, Microsoft Office Live, Zoho, ThinkFree, and Zimbra. There are others of course, but these are (I hope you'll agree) the main players.
Also, later in this post we compare Zoho's Web Office apps with Google Apps. These two companies have the most apps so far, so it's a good indicator of progress in the space (remembering that Microsoft is yet to release a truly compelling Web Office Suite - and no, Office Live in its current incarnation doesn't count).
First of all let's summarize what exactly is a Web Office suite. Such a beast should have, at the least, the following apps in it: email, calendar, word processing, spreadsheets, presentations. These are the core products of Microsoft Office, the dominant office suite package. You could also make a case for apps like contacts manager, task manager or even project management to be in the core products, but we'll keep things real simple in this case. So here's how the Web Office contenders shape up:
Web Office Suite: Core Products
|Google Apps||Y, Gmail||Y, Google Calendar||Y, Google D & S||Y, Google D & S||Y, Zenter + Tonic*|
|Zoho||Y, Zoho Mail (private beta)||Y, Zoho Mail (private beta)||Y, Zoho Writer||Y, Zoho Sheet||Y, Zoho Show|
|ThinkFree||N||N||Y, ThinkFree Write||Y, ThinkFree Calc||Y, ThinkFree Show|
|Microsoft Office Live||Y||Y||N||N||N|
Note: Zimbra and Microsoft don't have separate names for their apps
* Update: Google acquired Zenter, which makes presentation software, less than 12 hours after this post was published.
It's certainly over-simplifying, but it helps to get a sense of where all the main players are in creating a basic Web Office suite. Google Apps has everything but Presentations, but that is rumored to be here soon. Zoho has the most complete offering so far, including many other apps not listed (Meeting, Wiki, etc). Its Mail product is currently in private beta, but it will be out in a couple of months. Zimbra also has an impressive offering - like Google it is only missing Presentations. ThinkFree has the main productivity apps, but curiously it doesn't have email or calendar.
A note about Microsoft. Currently it has a number of different offerings, all under the 'Office Live' banner - there are 7 products listed on this page, including Office Live Premium and Office Live Groove. But as yet, no sign that Microsoft will risk its massive desktop Office revenues, by offering an online office suite. Indeed, that may never happen - as Microsoft attempts to create a desktop/online hybrid around its 'services' strategy.
Web Office Suite: Comparing Zoho to Google Apps
The above Core Products table doesn't tell the full story. ThinkFree obviously has its reasons for not offering email or calendar, while Zimbra's real power is more on the email, calendar and web services side, rather than documents and spreadsheets. In fact, although I put a 'Y' mark for Zimbra in documents and spreadsheets, neither product can import and export data from standard formats such as Word and Excel - which is generally seen as a requirement for such products.
Also, some of the smaller vendors believe their offerings are stronger than Google's. ThinkFree was of this opinion last time I spoke to them, and today Zoho told me a similar story. Raju Vegesna of Zoho told me that Zoho Office Suite has "about 50% more apps" than Google Apps. In terms of features for individual apps, Raju also claims they have better functionality, citing a recent word processor review at Donation Coder. Raju provided me with this comparison list, between Zoho and Google Apps:
|Zoho Writer||Google Docs & Spreadsheets|
|Zoho Sheet||Google Docs & Spreadsheets|
|Zoho Show||Not yet (one coming though)|
|Zoho Wiki||Not yet, but JotSpot in the wings|
|Zoho Notebook||Google Notebook (nb: both are quite different)|
|Zoho Meeting||None (but has acquired Marratech)|
|Zoho Creator (a db app)||None|
|None||Google Page Creator|
|Zoho Chat||Google Talk (Better than Zoho)|
|Zoho Mail & Cal||Gmail & Cal|
The above list shows that Zoho has more apps, although that isn't necessarily an important metric. Still, it demonstrates that a Web Office Suite can encompass many different apps, some of which don't exist in Microsoft Office (like wikis) and many of which offer different things online than on the desktop. And both Zoho and Google are in full-on development mode, trying to find the right combo of apps for a Web Office Suite.
There's a long way to go yet in the Web Office Suite stakes, and we have yet to see Microsoft show its hand. Right now, Google Apps is looking good from a market position, while Zoho, ThinkFree and Zimbra all have impressive offerings. What do you think of the current Web Office Suites? Any others that you'd recommend?
Disclosure: Zoho was recently a R/WW sponsor