Zoho Fights Back for the Title of Best Online Writing Tool
In our previous post, we discussed both the features shared by Google Docs and Zoho Writer and discussed Google Docs’ unique features, all with an eye towards a writer’s needs.
In Round 2, Zoho Writer comes out swinging and shows its strengths, guided by our free software evangelist, The Frugal Parson.
Featured Advantages for Zoho
Just Being Zoho – With Some Heavyweight Software
Nobody will allege Zoho is attempting world domination as some people accuse Google, but Zoho is an impressive worldwide provider of business software that allows individuals to use its software for free. (Unlike Google, Zoho began in India, not Silicon Valley.) Zoho duplicates many of the same applications that Google offers, with sophisticated calendars, spreadsheets, presentations, email and chat.
However, unlike most online office app providers, Zoho offers database tools, CRM, customer management, bug tracking, invoicing, bookkeeping, a password vault, an online notebook (similar to Evernote, but only online), and more. Many of these are geared for corporate use, but may be used for free by individuals. While this review concentrates on writing, a business manager should also look at the overall needs of the business and all the tools available. For variety of tools, Zoho is impressive.
Drop Down Menus + Ribbon Tools – a One-Two Punch
A nice advantage of Zoho Writer is the interface. It combines traditional drop-down menus with contextual tool ribbons, similar to Microsoft Word’s (but simpler). In other words, you can select commands using just the menus (clicking on the small arrow that shows when you point the mouse at a menu name), or by clicking (or tapping) the menus as tabs to change the ribbon’s controls.
Zoho has 8 menu items with 7 changing tool ribbons (the File menu stands on its own), plus a Settings menu in the upper right. Google has 1 tool ribbon and 9 menu choices.
Both Google and Zoho allow you to change styles, but Google does not have a style editor box. Zoho offers both Character and Paragraph styles.
Quick Parts and a Quick Text glossary function.
You select Quick Text entries by clicking or tapping the entry in the ribbon. (There is no keyboard shortcut/glossary.) Frankly, the Frugal Parson prefers Phrase Express as a universal writing shortcut tool, which works fine with both of these apps.
Templates: Zoho’s Knockout Punch?
Zoho allows you to save document templates for your own use. The Frugal Parson was surprised to learn that Google doesn’t. (If you are in Google Drive (not Docs), you can create public templates that anybody on the web can use. Corporate users of Google’s apps can create templates in a central storage area. Forget about private, personal templates, though.) Zoho wins this feature, hands down.While we’re speaking about templates, Zoho Mail allows you create email templates that can include attached files from Zoho Docs, Google Drive, or DropBox, so they are ready to send right straight from your templates folder. (You can create email templates in Gmail, but you cannot attach files to them in advance.) So, if you want to send out your latest opus to people who email a request to you, it’s much easier and quicker in Zoho Mail than in Gmail.
Chat – Ringside Banter During the Fight
Zoho has a chat feature that enables users to text each other while editing the same document, which Google no longer has.
Watermarks – Good Footwork in the Ring
Zoho allows you to show and print a text or graphic watermark on all the pages (such as “Draft” or “Printed on 10-15-2014” or whatever you want, at any size. They show up online if you share the document, too. You can see these watermarks not only when you print, but also when you edit on-screen and when you share the document or create a PDF, too.
In Zoho, it appears that at its default settings, all typed text is highlighted (my guess is this is part of the color coding used when editing is done by multiple users). You can turn this off using the No fill setting in the Background Color command under the Home menu. If you frequently collaborate online, the colored highlighting is an advantage. If you don’t, it’s a bit annoying, but easy to turn off once you find the right tool.
Cross Platform Sharing
Zoho allows you to open and save files in Zoho Docs, of course, but it also allows you to open Google Docs, spreadsheets and presentations from withing Zoho’s own file management area. Just click on the arrow next to Upload and select Google Drive. (You will have to show Zoho where that Drive is the first time and give permission.)
If you use Google Chrome as your browser, you can also install Zoho apps, including Writer and Docs, into Chrome which, in turn, allow you to share files back and forth between Google Drive and Zoho. You can even invite people to edit the files with you, apparently either in Google or Zoho, which is a nifty trick.
To learn more, read this document from the Zoho blog.
If you don’t use Chrome as your browser, you can also share files back and forth from your computer by installing both the Google Drive and Zoho Docs for Windows desktop applications. These install folders in your Windows desktop. (Not sure if there are equivalent for Macs.) Once you install both, you can view both services’ files in their respective folders on your PC. Then you *should* be able to import files from either folder: Google Drive or Zoho Docs.
The same trick should also allow you to import files from Box, Dropbox and other services that allow you to install a synced folder in your desktop. (The Frugal Parson isn’t sure how that works in the new Windows 8 grid interface; it does work in the Desktop (the quasi-Windows 7 interface). We’ve not been able to test all the different possible combinations of these apps, so some experimentation might be needed. Note that having lots of these folders frequently updating can really slow down your system or your internet speed.
Thesaurus – a Powerful Swing, But a Miss
Zoho’s Thesaurus tool would be a big advantage over Google if it actually worked, but it doesn’t.
Google allows you to import a very basic thesaurus Add-on that is slow, but it works.
Other Zoho Advantages
- Zoho allows you to export files into both old (Word 97-2004) and new (Word 2007 and newer) OOXML Microsoft formats.
- Zoho has a tab settings tool.
- Zoho’s Numbered List command actually does more than number lists. In conjunction with headings, you can create Legal numbering, Outlines, Chapter and Headers, and other formatting tricks.
- Although both programs have basic formatting tools (bold, italic, etc.), only Zoho offers Cross-out text, Change Case, Sentence Case, and Small Caps controls.
- In addition to other export options, Zoho also allows you to save in the ePub ebook format. Google doesn’t. This might be useful for e-publishers.
Using Google Docs and Zoho Writer on iPads (Zoho’s Suddenly on the Ropes)
The iPad is a completely different user experience from the online version of these suites. Both feature apps for the iPad.
Google offers one app for Google Drive and another for Google Writer. Google Writer on the iPad only offers a small subset of the features of the online version, but you can write and edit in the app and create new files. The on-screen keyboard is basic iPad stuff, none of the extra navigation, numbers and editing features you will find in different iPad editors. But it works.
Zoho’s app, unfortunately, is mainly a reader for documents, spreadsheets and the like. You cannot edit Zoho Writer docs in the app or in the iPad’s Safari, which is very disappointing. You could copy your Zoho work and paste it into another editing tool on your iPad, but you’d need to go online to paste it back.
A Quick Android Test, too
I briefly tried using Google Drive (and Docs) on my Android phone. It worked, very slowly, but you can create a new file and write.
The Referee’s Count (But, No Ten Count Here)
- If you want to try a mid-level writing or document-production tool, with the advantages of an SAAS app, you should try Google or Zoho’s apps.
- For individuals, each is free.
- If you use a Chromebook, you’re probably already using Google Docs. You might also try Zoho Writer and other apps.
- If you use several computers, share a workspace, or use a library’s computers to edit docs, an online tool might be easier than using a USB thumb drive.
- Both Zoho Writer and Google Docs are capable editors. They have many advanced features and you can save in a variety of formats that play well with many other tools.
- If you are looking for a zenware-like, open space, menu-free writing space, both Zoho and Google will give you that, too. Remember that F11 hides the menu bars in Firefox, Chrome and other browsers, too.
- Many people accustomed to Microsoft Word might prefer the ribbon interface in Zoho, which does not really exist in Google.
Zoho, however, has still not created a useful app for using the program in iOS or Android. A read-only app is not very useful except to copy text and paste into an iPad app.
If you want to edit or create docs with your iPad, the Google Docs app on the iPad is a bare bones editor, but it works. Having said that, if you don’t mind writing text-only files, you can write in any text editor you like on Android, iOS, or Windows phones and tablets, then paste it into Google or Zoho (or email it) for formatting.
The Parson found two apparent bugs in Zoho: the mentioned non-working thesaurus tool and an occasional problem with the text not wrapping and wandering off the margins of the page. (Restarting the browser seems to fix that, but we haven’t run across that in Google.)
If you like having lots of features, plug-ins, and fonts at your fingertips, or need to edit on your computer and your tablet, Google is probably the better way to go. Bloggers might like the Google Web Fonts. (If you want high-end publishing tools, check out our Frugal Guidance 2 posts about the free LibreOffice and Apache OpenOffice suites.)
Zoho has lots of other useful tools for writers, including spreadsheets, a notebook application, an invoicing tool, and an email system that is simpler than Gmail, yet makes it easier to attach both Zoho and Google documents to emails, with email templates to boot. If you need templates, or you use custom watermark text or images, and you like the Zoho menu/ribbon interface, you’ve found your new home.
The Frugal Parson’s Decision?
The Frugal Parson generally favors Zoho for its use of both menus and ribbon toolbars. If he worked more with templates (writing and email), Zoho would be his preference. But since he frequently edits or brainstorms on an iPad, Google would seem to have the advantage. The Frugal Parson found the two buglets (mentioned above) to be annoying, and with Google Web Fonts, he is thinking of using Google’s Writer more often.
Both programs are good creativity, writing, editing and publishing platforms. Consider the special features that you want from your word processor, then go through the lists above and see if one or the other is better for your needs. The only real reasons not to use both is remembering which program you used to edit a specific file, and learning the keyboard shortcuts.
How to Sign Up
To start using Google Drive, Google Docs, and other tools, you need to first create a Gmail account that will link these tools together. Then see Get started with Google Drive. Google uses a central password and login for all your Googlish needs.
This review was entirely written online, portions in both Google Docs and Zoho Writer. The texts were combined and final editing was shared between them, too. Since this article was intended as a blog post, it was kept in a plain text file and formatted with Markdown. Daring Fireball’s Markdown translation tool was then used to translate the result into HTML. That was, in turn, pasted into WordPress, where the final editing and proofing was done. It sounds convoluted, but it actually works smoothly.
Other Online Writing and Office Options
Some other online editors you might want to compare with Google and Zoho include:
Microsoft’s own online office applications, if you have installed Office or subscribe to Office 365.
ThinkFree Office from Korea.
Feng Office is a commercial corporate service. You can try it free for 30 days.
rollApp is a new beta-test web service that offers online versions of many open source programs, including LibreOffice, OpenOffice Writer, and Calligra Words (part of a Linux-based office suite). The Frugal Parson hasn’t tried these services yet except to confirm that the site and LibreOffice Writer do actually work in Firefox. If rollApp can work out any bugs and improve the (ugly) menus, these could be great full-featured online apps.
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