The go-to cloud application these days is Google Docs. Many office workers rely on it in the same way we rely on fossil fuels and Starbucks. Yet, you might wonder if there is something you’re missing if you choose a different cloud suite for documents, spreadsheets, and presentations. There are always options, and some of the alternatives are powerful and innovative.
Interestingly, one of the trends with knowledge workers is to move away from the traditional cloud document editing suite that includes a presentation tool and a spreadsheet. Apps are becoming more focused on specific tasks – for example, using Evernote for writing notes shared between teams and then creating full business docs in a different app.
“Many clients we work with are shifting from just wanting a standard ‘office suite’ to looking at more modern alternatives,” says Alan Lepofsky, the Vice President and Principal Analyst for the Future of Work at Constellation Research. “For example, Microsoft is making some good progress with Sway. IBM is getting people to create content with IBM Watson Analytics, similar to the ‘personal business intelligence’ available from Tableau.”
Still, workers often need the basic suite, and the following alternatives provide a solid platform for completing business plans, generating sales charts, and creating slideshows.
It’s possible you have not heard of this document editing suite, which shares many of the same features as Google Docs. ONLYOFFICE is designed for team collaboration and has modules for word processing, spreadsheets, and slideshows plus additional modules for CRM, project management, and email.
One of the most interesting differentiators is that, when teams collaborate on a document, there are two modes. Fast mode shows all changes instantly from any user. However, another mode allows users to make changes but not have them appear until he or she selects to save them, offering some degree of confidentiality.
Lepofsky had not heard of this app but says it is important to evaluate Google Docs to see if it integrates with current systems – for example, the email app and cloud storage systems you use.
2. Dropbox Paper
This little-known alternative to Google Docs integrates into the Dropbox storage service and apps. It’s not as well-known because Dropbox intends to move far beyond storage into business applications, and this is a first foray into that market.
The biggest difference between Dropbox Paper and Google Docs, other than the Dropbox integration, is that Paper lets you integrate code snippets as a team and edit them. It might be a ‘light’ tool for now without the extensive templates of Microsoft Office or the integration with other apps in the Zoho suite, but it does work well with the Dropbox storage service that’s so popular with office workers these days.
Importantly, it shows Dropbox is heading in a new direction to become an office productivity tool that helps teams complete projects. “Many people want lightweight note-taking which is where Evernote, OneNote, Box Notes, Google Keep, and DropBox Paper come in,” says Lepofsky.
3. Zoho Writer
A well-established Google Docs alternative, Zoho Writer (and the entire Zoho suite of cloud-enabled products) provide a completely different ecosystem, one that has nothing to do with Google. Zoho has tools for email, marketing, CRM, helpdesk, finance, and much more.
Zoho Writer is the bread-and-butter app for knowledge workers. It has three modes for working – one that is for individual doc writing, one for team-based collaboration and review, and one that is for getting docs ready for distribution. (A fourth ‘reader’ mode removes most features to make documents easier to read on the screen.)
When collaborating, Writer has additional features beyond what you see in Google Docs. For example, you can make parts of a document available for collaboration and lock down other sections. Then, you can close down a document for any additional team editing.
Zoho Writer also has 350 fonts included. The doc review process is more advanced than Google Docs – you can search through and filter comments, send them via a link, and respond to comments using email instead of visiting the document. “What I like about Zoho is that their content creation tools are part of a larger platform of applications, including things like task management and CRM,” says Lepofsky.
This relatively new and powerful team collaboration cloud application works like a mash-up between Slack and Microsoft Office. Instead of relying on email as the primary form of collaboration between team members, Quip uses threaded discussions that take place within the app itself. Inline chats are a major part of what makes this such a useful tool for knowledge workers who need to work as a team. There are also wikis for knowledge sharing and task management tools.
The app further differentiates itself by having a full document versioning history and desktop apps for Mac and Windows. “Quip brings together content creation and communication via chat and they are blurring the boundaries between documents and spreadsheets,” says Lepofsky. “Instead, you can simply insert a spreadsheet into a page.”
5. Microsoft Office Online
It’s strange to think that Microsoft Office might be merely an alternative to Google Docs. This powerhouse has been around for decades, and many Microsoft-centric companies rely on it exclusively. However, it’s not as well-regarded as a cloud-enabled suite. Many companies use the desktop versions of Office and not the online versions.
That said, the cloud-based options compete directly with Google Docs in that there are iPad and Android versions available, they show (in real-time) who is editing a document and the changes being made, and yet have all of the power of the desktop apps including a massive template library.
“Microsoft Office is not the ‘old office suite’ many people think of,” says Lepofsky. “They have integrated Office 365, Yammer and Skype, introduced Sway and Planner, and enable people to discover content in Delve.”