When it's time to do some document creation, there are many reasons to look beyond Microsoft Office. Most of the software available outside of what Microsoft offers, though, can fall short of expectations. One service worth looking into is Zoho. Today, this increasingly popular online office suite implemented full offline functionality for the first of its many different services. (Disclosure: In case you hadn't noticed in the right hand corner of our site, Zoho is an RWW sponsor.)

Zoho Writer, the company's word processing tool, can now be used offline, using Google Gears. If you're someone who has grown dependent on the online functionality of Zoho, Google Docs or an other service - you'll find that it's very exciting to be able to go offline with Gears. It couldn't be easier for the user. If you've got Google Gears on your computer, you can download selected Zoho documents to your hard drive with just a click. The pages for those documents will then be accessible inside your browser, even with when you are not connected to the internet. Someday soon, the company says, the other Zoho apps will also be available offline as well. If you've tried Google Docs, you've probably noticed that it's ugly and awkward. Zoho is far less so, and now offers the advantage of being able to go offline as well. (Your collaboration partner probably trusts Google already, though, so it's not a clear case by any means.)

Richard MacManus covered the read-only implementation of Gears by Zoho here in August.

Whether all the bugs have been worked out of the implementation remains to be seen. Other applications leveraging Gears sometimes experience problems when trying to sync back up online after a session offline. I'd suggest you test out Zoho Offline with a back-up copy of any important documents, and perhaps save revisions in a text editor, the first few times you use it.

While early Web 2.0 hype was all about doing everything online, subsequent developments have shown that the desktop has plenty to offer still. Rich Internet Apps, capable of working on the desktop but leveraging the web, offer the best of both worlds. Gears is a variation on the RIA theme and has a whole lot of promise.

Google Gears was built to allow offline use of Google Reader and GMail but can be used by developers of any online service. With the new GearsMonkey Greasemonkey script, Firefox users can take any website's pages offline. Note that while Zoho Writer went offline today, Google Docs and Spreadsheets still does not offer official Gears support for offline use. There is a certain irony to that.