Online Office Suites

Printer Friendly Version


Online office suites such as Thinkfree, Zoho and Google Docs have gained popularity over the last few years due to their convenience and ease of use. As the internet develops and becomes an indispensable tool, even companies such as Microsoft are looking at extending their office suites offering features such as online storage. Most of the revenue generated by these websites come from selling ad-space, subscriptions or related products. To profit from this growing trend, Vodafone could look at partnering with one of these online office companies to do something similar.


Online office suites are websites on the internet that duplicate office suite services such as word processing and spreadsheets. Whilst not as comprehensive as a proper office suite such as Microsoft Office and Openoffice, online office suites are a convenient alternative for many people as they only require an internet connection and an internet browser to access.

There are several office suites currently available:
Google Docs

In additional there are also websites dedicated to providing only one sort of service like spread sheets. Examples include:
Edit Grid - Online Spreadsheets
Nevrocode - Online desktop document editing program
Buzzword - Online word processor by Adobe.

Most online office suites usually include word processing and spreadsheet functions. In keeping with the office suite concept, some also provide services such as database management and powerpoint presentations.

Here's a quick video explaining how useful an online office suite like Google Docs is:

As mentioned in the video there are a number of common features that online office suites share.
The list of features includes:

  • Collaboration - You can invite others to edit and change the document.
  • Multiple access levels - For example, you could allow edits via invitation only or allow anybody to edit the document.
  • Import/Export functions - Where you can export documents into microsoft word format and other popular formats like pdf.
  • Online Publishing - Where you can make the document available on a website or blog.
  • Online Backup - Where your documents are backed up and stored online.
  • Reviewing revisions - Where you review changes.
  • Folders - Where you can store documents separately.

Many of these features are similar to what a wiki can do.

Read Write Web Blog - On the history of the web office since 2005.
Read Write Web Blog - On 10 Must Have Online Office Apps.
PC Mech - On the pros and cons of online office suites.


Reviews by Computer World and Information Week all indicate that overall Thinkfree is a very good office suite. Both of them find that Thinkfree is the overall winner of all reviewed online office suites.


  • Supports documents, presentations and spreadsheets.
  • Ad-supported.
  • Sells office suite software that can integrate with the online portion of Thinkfree called Thinkfree Desktop.
  • Has 'premium' subscription features.

Thinkfreedocs houses a number of good examples of documents created by Thinkfree.
For example:
The Evolution of Social Media Releases

Reviews by Extreme Tech and PC Magazine generally indicate that Zoho is good but not quite on par with Thinkfree. It is still a popular choice with many and Zoho actively competes with Thinkfree which forces it to constantly improve itself.

Aside from documents, presentations and spreadsheets, Zoho also features other applications such as wikis, online planners and online invoicing and a variety of other applications. Zoho's target audience is small and medium businesses, hence many of their applications are designed around business needs. Zoho is free for personal use while charging businesses for the use of its services.


  • Has more features supporting documents, presentations and spreadsheets, wikis, online planners, project management and invoices.
  • Free for personal use with no ads.
  • Charges for business use.

Here's an example of a document in Zoho embedded in Wikidot:

Google Docs
The reviews above indicate that Google Docs is a basic online office suite suitable for basic users but doesn't compare to full range of services offered by Thinkfree or Zoho. All Gmail users automatically have access to Google docs hence it has become a popular choice for casual users.

Google Docs

  • Supports online documents, spreadsheets and presentations.
  • Free.
  • No Ads.
  • Basic features
  • Simple

Here's a simple spreadsheet and chart that I made up in Google Docs:

Business Possibilities

As the internet becomes an essential part of people's lives, having an office suite that can be accessed anywhere is an extremely useful tool. The current office suite by Microsoft doesn't really have an online side of things despite the prevalence of the internet. Thinkfree's Desktop is therefore a step in the future direction of office suites. Thinkfree Desktop isn't offering just a office suite, it's also offering online storage, portability, security and convenience because you can store documents online and edit them somewhere else using an internet browser.

According to Application Development Trends, Microsoft's Bill Gates is already announcing steps in a similar direction. As they report:

"As we think about software, we're running it in the personal computer, we're running it as a service, we're running it on servers, and we're running it on mobile phones," Gates said. "[So the need is for] software that works together across all those devices that delivers a complete solution."

As evidence of these steps towards convenience and the 'complete solution', we have the release of Microsoft's iMesh. iMesh is a program that is designed to synchronise and manage the data on all of your digital devices.

We can most likely expect greater functionality and improvement in online office suites and a growing demand for them.

Most online office suites generate revenue by:

  • Ads
  • Subscriptions from users
  • Selling related products

Business opportunities therefore revolve around these three areas. Below, are some of the ways which Vodafone can generate revenue via online office suites.

Portal Access
For many people, being able to edit while on the move is really important. Vodafone could offer access to office suites like Thinkfree and Zoho for a small fee on their mobiles. Customers should then be able to upload what they have done and continue editing when they arrive at a desktop.

Mobile Package
Microsoft just launched Microsoft Office Mobile allowing you to edit documents, spreadsheets and presentations. Vodafone could look at creating its very own office package brand along with a number of partners and bundling it on their own mobiles.

Storage Space
In the same way that mobile phone companies offer text message storage, online office suites and other websites offer storage space and document back up. Those who need more can purchase additional storage space at extra cost. This is a relatively easy way to generate profit.

Intranet Use
Several companies now have blogs and wikis on their intranets. For a company as large as Vodafone, such features are beneficial for cross country projects or highly mobile employees that travel as they are able to edit documents from other computers in another country. Being able to edit documents and upload them from a mobile as part of the office suite is convenient for such employees.

Advertising Space
Just like Thinkfree has ads while you edit documents, selling advertising space at the bottom or top of documents could be a good way to generate revenue.


How can online office suites be incorporated into a mobile phone?
Mobile phone are becoming an indispensable part of life and are getting smaller. Current BlackBerrys and mobile phones already have notepads and calenders in-built. How can an online office suite fit into a mobile phone's functionality and pricing?

Should Vodafone have online office services on its intranet?
It's not something essential but it is something that should be considered. Just like e-mail, the intranet has become indispensable to any company, online office services could become a valuable component of the intranet.

How will online offices be integrated into the offline component?
As mentioned earlier, Thinkfree and Microsoft are already looking at integrating offline and online programs together. How else will the lines between online and offline applications be blurred?

Infoworld - Stating that online office suites are here to stay.


A number of website are already moving beyond online office suites into online desktops where the desktop experience and functionality is duplicated in the browser.

For example:
Ajaxwindows - An online website attempting to create an online desktop that includes an online office suite as well.
Desktop on Demand - A similar service as above.
Desktop Two -Another online desktop.
Zcubes - Billing itself as Web 3.0. Zcubes' goal is to transform websurfing into a truly customisable cross platform experience. It features an online desktop, online office suite in addition to a variety of other features. Rather than limiting itself to a couple of well known formats, it is attempting to package features onto its online applications. It can be intimidating to new users and requires a high speed internet connection.


Online office suites are websites that duplicate the function of office suites online. They are becoming a popular convenient alternative for many especially for those who travel quite a bit. Popular online office suites include Thinkfree, Zoho and Google Docs. Each of these office suites has their own advantages and disadvantages. As the internet becomes more prevalent, companies which traditionally provided office suites such as Microsoft are now looking towards integrating an online component into their office packages similar to what Thinkfree are already providing. Vodafone should look at how online office suites can be integrated onto their mobiles. One easy way to profit is to offer more storage space. A number of websites such as Zcubes are already planning ahead beyond online office suites and offering online desktops.

Copyrighted Vodafone New Zealand 2007, 2008