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More and more word processing is moving to the web these days. This has many advantages. The documents are accessible from anywhere, they’re open to collaboration and sharing, it’s easy to import and export, and it’s just a better way to do work in this constantly connected world.
For a while, one of the most popular solutions has been Google Docs. It’s a great service, and one that has served me well over the months and years I’ve been using it. It also helps that there are plenty of Google Docs add-ons that can improve on the native features Google offers. Google Docs, though, is not without its downsides, some of which have left me in constant search for the best and brightest of the online document managing application.
Well, I haven’t found it yet, but I’ve found five pretty great alternatives to Google Docs that you might want to check out. All of these, and Google Docs, offer the same basic editing features; instead of rehashing them over and over, I’ll point out the best features that put the application on this list.
The world’s most popular office suite also has a free online version. A Microsoft account is all you need to gain access to almost the entire gamut of Microsoft Office applications. Office Online grants access to Word, Excel, PowerPoint, OneNote, and Outlook, as well as Sway and a host of other tools.
The offering is so good that some people have entirely eschewed purchasing Microsoft Office 2016 in favor of the free online suite. The introduction of collaborative tools has only strengthened the free service, too.
However, Microsoft has not given us the crown jewels. No, there is a catch. The Microsoft Office applications are extremely handy, but lack some key features. For instance, the number of templates available is reduced. As well as this, you can use the integrated styles, but cannot make your own. Office Online contains a number of these “half-features” that you’ll encounter from time to time. Some are negligible. Others can be massively frustrating — I’m looking at you Merge Formatting.
Office Online is still an excellent alternative to Google Docs, despite the shortcomings found in several of the applications.
The number of applications Zoho offers, from an email service to a personal wiki and a “centralized public repository” (whatever that is) is ridiculous. I’ve become a big Zoho fan recently, and it has a huge number of useful tools at your disposal.
The writer itself is excellent, with a ton of editing options, organized in a succinct and aesthetically pleasing sidebar. Almost anything you can do in Word can be done in Zoho, from adding a header and footer to directly posting a document to your blog. It also features advanced options, such as mail merging and electronic signature support. Another extremely handy feature is the integrated Zoho chat, so you can chat with collaborators while working.
Zoho is the most feature-complete of the Web-based applications, including Google Docs, and is incredibly easy to use. Zoho doesn’t get nearly the press Google Docs does, but I can’t see a reason not to switch and we can give you even more reasons to try Zoho.
If collaboration is what you’re into, give Etherpad a good look. There’s no need to sign up or install Etherpad. You can simply select one of the public instances running Etherpad Lite, many of which feature secure encrypted connections. Once you’re connected, either share a link to the pad or send invitations to your contacts by email.
As users come in, you can edit the text on the pad in real-time, and changes automatically appear. You can chat in the sidebar, highlight which user made a given change, and save revisions in order to revert if someone made a mistake.
Etherpad is perfect for coding and programming, but it’s also great for writing and editing documents. There aren’t as many features to Etherpad, and all your editing is in plain text, but it’s so collaborative and useful that it deserves a mention anyway.
I’ve had the pleasure of using Dropbox Paper while writing this article. The collaborative online editor is currently in open beta. This means all you need is a Dropbox account, and you can give the new service a try.
Dropbox Paper clearly has some excellent features. Adding and curating images is exceptionally easy, especially if you already use Dropbox as an image host. Similarly, embedding other content is just as easy. You’ll be able to embed YouTube, Vimeo, Spotify, SoundCloud, Facebook, Twitter, and Google Docs.
As with Dropbox, collaboration and sharing is key. Sharing is as simple as clicking a little blue button, and selecting who you’d like to share with. Similarly, and this is a feature I really like, you can “@” people, even if they’re not currently collaborating. The person will receive a notification you’d like to share, and see what you’ve shared with them.
Another handy collaboration feature is Task Assignment. You can quickly turn any bullet-list into a task list to be assigned to your collaborators.
Nuclino is one of the best free collaborative editors around. It is extremely easy to use, has a great user interface (UI), and provides a really satisfying experience in pretty much all areas. That said, it isn’t necessarily a direct Google Docs competitor. Google Docs provides a rounded suite of tools, while Nuclino has a definite slant toward team and project management.
Nonetheless, writing and editing in Nuclino is aided by the clean aesthetic and easily implemented editorial tools. Nuclino is versatile, too. Multiple groups, multiple boards, easy invitations, smart tags, and integration with services such as YouTube, Vimeo, and Soundcloud provide an expansive service.
However, Nuclino doesn’t have much in the locker if you wanted a pure editorial experience. Similarly, there isn’t an integrated spreadsheet application. Consequently, if your team depends on advanced document editing and formatting or even just basic spreadsheets, you’ll be importing to Nuclino from another source.
An Alternative Ending
Google Docs is still an excellent tool, but there are alternatives out there. You can choose a more traditional editor experience in Office Online or Zoho Writer, or try a collaborative experience with Dropbox Paper or Nuclino. Needless to say, you have a handful of options to consider before starting your next big project!
What’s your go to editor, online or off? Which of the aforementioned online editors is the best alternative to Google Docs? Let us know your thoughts below!
Originally written by David Pierce on 26 March, 2009.