Being able to collaborate in real-time online continues to get better but we’re still far from where we need to be in regards to features. here’s a rundown of the best ways we can work with others on documents at the same time.
The interface is a little barebones and too many common features we’ve grown accustomed to in office suites are missing but this is a good solution for basic brain-storming sessions for groups of people in real-time.
However, there are some major negatives: First, you can’t store any documents online as you can with the other solutions. You have to track each and every cryptic URL. There’s also no clean and easy way to export the finished documents. You also can’t import or open Microsoft Office documents like the others can.
Here’s a video demo of Etherpad in action.
Google Docs as everyone knows offers all three office apps for creating documents, spreadsheets and presentations. They also offer good sharing features which means you can collaborate with others in real-time at the same time on the same documents. There’s also an option to post the document to a blog or website and have any changes updated automatically by itself. This makes it sort of like a wiki and a blog publishing platform. The downside is that you can’t chat with them inside Google Docs but you can always use Gtalk.
Zoho also offers a suite of apps like Google does to create online documents, spreadsheets and presentations (plus databases) but their sharing features are much better. Not only can you invite others to view or edit documents, but you can create groups to make it easier to manage. You can also publish any doc to your blog or website as Google Docs does but it also adds a new feature that Google doesn’t offer which is the ability to make any document public. It also provides a unique URL and RSS feed for every public document which is updated automatically whenever a change is made.
The other cool feature is being able to chat live with collaborators. There’s a tab on the left that shows all collaborators which makes it easy to communicate while editing a document together in real-time.
There’s also version control so you can check previous versions and revert back to a former copy if you need to do so.
There are sections for public docs and docs shared with you from others. All in a useful area on the left.
Microsoft Office Live allows existing owners of Microsoft Office (Not free at all) to share and collaborate with other office owners by using their Microsoft Office Online account that stores the documents. If you don’t have Office installed on the local computer then you’re out of luck which is the downside to this method. Microsoft needs to provide a true web version of their apps in the cloud in order to make this a truly useful solution for the mobile workforce. However, if you just want to share Microsoft Office documents with colleagues that have Office then this could be a viable option.
Office Live Workspace’s look and feel seems to have been inspired by Zoho. Hmmm.
ThinkFree provides a slick suite of online apps like Zoho and Google Docs. You can use the web versions of their apps or install a desktop client that syncs with your online account which means you can work offline. Zoho and Google claim to let you work offline via Google gears but you can’t create new documents offline, only view existing ones. Thinkfree allows you to do everything just like the full blown Microsoft Office suite.
Also, you get 1 GB of storage online for your documents which is excellent. The documents are all Microsoft Office compatible as well. They have sharing options for individuals or groups.
Any ThinkFree document can be viewed with Microsoft Office or their free ThinkFree viewer in case someone doesn’t own Microsoft Office or doesn’t have it installed. They also provide a Microsoft Project type of app online for up to three free projects.