Emailing documents back and forth or using an FTP server to collaborate on projects is slow and cumbersome. Collaborating in the cloud is fast and easy. Once you’ve tried it, you’ll wonder how you ever managed without it.
As you might expect, the assumption behind Google Drive is that everyone lives in a Google universe. If you and your colleagues often find yourselves knee-deep in Google Docs instead of Microsoft Word, Google Drive won’t interfere with your mojo.
If the reverse is true, however, Google Drive makes collaborating difficult. Upload a Word .docx document, for instance, and the file will appear as read-only in Google Drive. To make any changes, you must convert the file to Google’s document format. Now you have two versions of the same file taking up twice as much space in the cloud, and leaving everyone to wonder which file they should work on.
Microsoft’s Office 365 consists of Web versions of Word, Excel, PowerPoint, Outlook, Lync, and SharePoint. The package is aimed at businesses whose employees are accustomed to using Microsoft applications, and a subscription costs $6 per month, per user. The next version of Office 365, announced in July, will target consumers as well as businesses; and it will be designed to run on tablets as well as on desktop and laptop PCs. Although Microsoft has not announced pricing for the new version of Office 365, the company has stated that a subscription to the service will include licenses to install Microsoft’s Office 2013 suite on up to five devices. Priced right, it could be a fabulous value.
You might think of Zoho as the poor man’s Office 365. The service is free for personal use, and it has all the essential Web-based apps, such as a shared calendar. Its interface is straightforward, and walk-throughs introduce you to various functions, such as reverting to a previous file version. If you despise Microsoft’s Ribbon, you’ll find Zoho a welcome respite. And although you need a premium plan to share files with non-Zoho users, you can collaborate with fellow Zoho account holders in real time without spending a dime.
We aren’t smitten, however. Why? Files are encrypted only in transit, not while they reside on Zoho’s servers. And Zoho provides a meager 1GB of storage; if you want more space, you must subscribe to a paid account at $3 per user, per month (which gives you a collection of features and administrative tools), and then pay an additional $3 per month for another 5GB of storage.
Office 365 takes the crown in this category, especially for business users. Of the three services we evaluated, only Microsoft’s encrypts your files both in transit and in storage. Most consumers can get by with either Google Drive or Zoho. Google Drive is the best service for iPad users, because it works so well with the Safari Web browser.