Google Docs is a web-based office suite composed of three key components: the Google Docs word processing program, Google Spreadsheets spreadsheet program, and Google Presentations presentation program. You access Google Docs using a web browser on any computer with an Internet connection, and it's totally free.
But Google Docs isn't the only cloud computing application available today. Google has lots of competition from companies both large and small, so it's wise to check out everything that's available before you make the jump from Microsoft Office to cloud-based office applications.
Comparing Web-Based Word Processors
Perhaps because word processing is so ubiquitous, this category of cloud application is one of the most competitive. In addition to the popular Google Docs, there are a half-dozen or so other really good web-based word processing applications. Let's look at the most popular of these web-based word processors, starting with Google Docs.
As of this writing, Google Docs is the most popular web-based word processor available. Like all things Google, the Google Docs interface is clean—and, most importantly, it works well without imposing a steep learning curve. Basic formatting is easy, storage space for documents is generous, and sharing/collaboration version control is a snap.
That said, Google Docs doesn't include all the functionality you find in Microsoft Word. In particular, Google Docs lacks sophisticated page formatting (no two-column documents, for example), mail merge, macros, and the like—some of which can be found in competing web-based word processing programs. If you're a Microsoft Word power user, Google Docs may disappoint.
Buzzword is Adobe's entry into the web-based word processor marketplace. Unlike Google Docs, Buzzword runs in Flash, which might be problematic for users with older PCs or those with slow Internet connections. Flash implementation gives Buzzword a snazzy interface and some advanced editing and formatting features.
Looks are important, and the Buzzword interface is head-and-shoulders above the more utilitarian interface of Google Docs. In addition, Buzzword provides full text and paragraph formatting, headers and footers, page numbering, endnotes, and keyboard shortcuts, none of which are currently available with Google Docs. You also get a running word count, inline spell-checking as you type, the ability to insert comments, and a history of revisions made to a file.
All of these features make Buzzword a great tool for professional writers—and a more sophisticated word processor than Google offers.
Docly is an interesting application, designed especially for professional writers. Docly offers a minimalist interface approach to editing and formatting. What sets Docly apart from other web-based word processors is its focus on copyright management, including the ability to assign a document a Creative Commons license or a traditional "all rights reserved" license. This means that not only can you share and publish your Docly documents, you can also offer them for sale.
Glide Write is part of the Glide Business suite of web-based applications. Glide Write itself is an elegant word processor that integrates seamlessly with other Glide applications, including email and chat. In addition, Glide documents can be viewed on a number of smart phones, including the iPhone, T-Mobile Sidekick, and a handful of Treo and BlackBerry models.
The iNetWord web-based word processor is a full-featured application. iNetWord features a tabbed interface, with each open document appearing on its own tab. You get support for page backgrounds, borders, page numbering, tables, images, and so on. It even comes with a number of predesigned templates for common types of documents.
Peepel WebWriter is part of a multi-application web-based office suite. The Peepel interface is a trifle unusual: The document you're editing appears in its own window, on top of the larger home window that holds the toolbar and tabs that you use to edit and format the document. If you can get past this little quirk, Peepel offers some interesting features, including the ability to edit documents offline if you don't have an Internet connection.
ThinkFree Write is a Java-based online word processor that mimics the Microsoft Word 2003 interface. Each new document opens in its own window, with a Word-style pull-down menu and toolbar. The editing and formatting functions are also quite Word-like, complete with styles, editing marks, fields, an autocorrect function, and so forth.
Zoho Writer easily holds its own against—or even surpasses—Google Docs in the web-based word processor race. You get all the standard editing and formatting features, as well as page numbering, headers and footers, footnotes and endnotes, table of contents, and other advanced features not found in all other web-based word processors. Zoho Writer also offers robust sharing and collaboration features, just as you find with Google Docs.
The Winner: Adobe Buzzword
Google Docs may be the most popular web-based word processor today, but Adobe ups the ante with its Buzzword application. Buzzword not only looks better than Google Docs, it also offers more sophisticated formatting and increased functionality. So while Google Docs and Zoho Writer are well worth your attention, Adobe Buzzword is the application of choice for power users.