Your Online Office

Illustration by Enrico Varrasso.
Illustration: Enrico Varasso
A host of new free or low-cost online competitors are trying to nibble away at Microsoft's $11.8 billion Office pie by pulling together productivity suites with online document storage and innovative sharing and collaboration features. The new options can prove useful for group efforts, and the price is certainly right. But none of these packages have the feature set to truly challenge Office--for now.

Google recently launched its free Google Docs & Spreadsheets service, creating a new interface for its previously separate word processing and spreadsheet applications. ThinkFree and Zoho, in their more extensive suites, also offer PowerPoint-like presentation programs. Like Google, ThinkFree and Zoho are free for individual users and allow you to save documents in a variety of formats, including HTML. A fourth contender, gOffice, charges 99 cents per month for its limited word processing and spreadsheet programs, with a presentation app to come.

Document-creation applications have been available online for some time. But by bringing such tools together as suites and offering downloadable business packages, these companies are obviously making a distinct effort to entice users away from Microsoft's ubiquitous software.

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