- Online office programs give you most of what you need for an office suite.
- Many online programs are free for individual users.
- Some let you work offline as well.
- You need a broadband connection to use them effectively.
Just as netbooks have given more freedom to take your computing anywhere for browsing, email and messaging, online office suites provide the programs you need to be just as productive as if you had stayed at your desk.
Online office suites come under the category of cloud computing, in which the programs and documents are stored on the internet ‘in the cloud’. There’s a lot of buzz about cloud computing and netbooks this year. These emerging technologies go hand-in-hand. It’s a marriage made, if not in heaven, then certainly up there in the cloud — a small, light and cheap laptop computer using free productivity programs and storage simply by connecting to the net. It’s a boon for mobile users.
Please note: this information was current as of May 2009 but is still a useful guide to today's market.
Should you take to the cloud?
None of the online office programs are as powerful or full-featured as their locally installed PC equivalents but could provide a valuable supplement to existing PC-based office suites. They have the advantages of:
- Anywhere access.
- Secure remote storage.
- Multi-user remote collaboration and sharing.
- Integration with other related online programs.
If you need to access files when away from your home or office an online office suite could be the answer. If you regularly save information on a USB key or email yourself documents to work on later, you could find an online solution an indispensible alternative to help you avoid problems in keeping track of document versions — you’re always working with the same version. Likewise, it’s a good way to allow others to see documents and add their own changes without losing track.
Choosing which online office suite ultimately suits you will depend not only on the programs offered, but also their look and feel which can vary dramatically. Ultimately, this can be very much an individual choice. And the decision doesn’t necessarily have to be final. You can try all of them without having to pay a cent and the common support for standard file formats means you can transfer your documents from one to another (via your local PC) if you later find you want to switch.
If you want to travel ultralight and just write, email and web-browse from almost anywhere then a netbook and online programs might be all you need.
Unless you’re a dedicated netbook user though, for the time being at least it’s likely that no matter what online office suite you choose, it won’t replace a suite of programs on your PC. They’re far from flawless and some of them require a good dose of patience and tolerance to use.
However, they’ve reached the stage of maturity that it’s well worth trying them out. Only after using online programs for a while will you be able to realistically tell if and when you could happily make the transition to the cloud full-time.