Monday, May 30, 2011

Three Cloud-Based Office Suite Alternatives for Schools to Consider

As our technology budgets get tighter, the need to look for more and more ways to save money becomes more and more necessary. Recently during one of our district technology meetings, we discussed how much we could save by not purchasing office suite licenses for new computers next year, and the amount of money to be saved was substantial, especially if we took just a fraction of that money to purchase a cloud-based office suite alternative.

Three office suite cloud solutions that schools might consider using are: Google Docs, Zoho, and Microsoft Office Web Apps. Each offers advantages and features school districts might find useful.

Google Docs

Our district has been using Google Apps for about a year. The transition to Gmail was uneventful and flawless, and now more and more of our staff are taking advantage of Google Docs. Google Docs offers users the ability to create word processing documents, presentations, spreadsheets, forms, and drawings or graphics. Google Docs applications do not have all the features of Microsoft Office or Open Office, but its apps are fully functional and simple to use. I would also add that Google Docs allows users to use real time collaboration and asynchronous collaboration as well. With it, your Docs are stored in the cloud, where you can access anywhere you have an Internet connection. When Google adds offline access to Google Docs later in the year, it will only expand the functionality of this cloud-based suite. In the meantime, you can download a program called Syncdocs. It will backup your Google Docs on your desktop computer, and it will sync those docs on multiple computers as well. You must have some kind of program such as Open Office to access and edit them, but once you’ve done so, it will sync them back to your Google Docs account.

Useful Features for Schools

  • Access anytime you have Web connection on any computer.
  • Real time and asynchronous sharing and editing of documents.
  • Simple to use in comparison to most office suites.
  • Docs are stored in the cloud, but can be Synced and stored on your desktop with Syndocs application.
  • School systems who purchase Google App accounts for Gmail have Google Docs accounts too, along with Google Sites and other Google products.


Zoho offers users three families of applications based in the cloud. Those three families are collaboration applications, business applications, and productivity applications. Within each of those families of apps are individual solutions.

The collaboration applications include apps such as chat, discussions, document sharing, projects and wikis. Zoho clearly offers users more collaborative tools than Google Docs. Zoho also offers business apps and a family of Productivity apps which include applications like a calendar, notebook, and word processor.

Zoho offers free accounts to individuals. They offer pay packages to businesses and their web site states they offer discounts to non-profits.

Useful Features of Zoho

  • Offers a large, extensive variety of apps, much more than Google Docs or Microsoft Office Web Apps.
  • Users save their documents in the cloud which allows access any time there is Internet access.
  • Zoho users can collaborate and share documents also with a wider selection of collaboration tools.
  • Offers a complete office suite of spreadsheet, word processor, and presentation program as well.

For more information and create a free account, see below.

Microsoft Office Web Apps

Users with a Microsoft Office Web Apps account can create an Excel spreadsheet, Word document, PowerPoint presentation, or a OneNote notebook. Users can also share their documents with other users too. Keep in mind that these applications are scaled down in capability from the Microsoft Office Suite applications you might be accustomed to on your desktop. If you happen to have Microsoft Office installed on you computer, it is possible to to open and edit these same documents with your desktop applications too. You can also sync and upload those documents to a Skydrive account, which is Microsoft’s cloud storage solution. I also have 25 GB of storage on the Skydrive which is considerably more than either Google Docs of the free Zoho account.

Useful Features of Microsoft Web Apps

  • Offers the ability to share documents like both Google Docs and Zoho.
  • Documents can be stored on the cloud-based Skydrive.
  • Offers users the OneNote online notebook app.
  • Offers users a complete office suite of word processor, presentation solution, and spreadsheet solution.

The 2011 K-12 Horizon Report placed the adoption of Cloud-based solutions on the near adoption horizon for good reason. As our technology budgets shrink, we are forced to find cheaper and more efficient solutions to our technology needs. Using a cloud-based office suite might be just another way to minimize our technology costs.

1 comment:

  1. Most people would opt for Google Docs but I second the Zoho recommendation. No idea why they don't get featured as much as Google Docs when they're equally as good if not better.