Zoho Writer Online Word Processor

Reviewed by: Howard Carson, April 2007
Published by: AdventNet, Inc.
Requires: Internet Explorer 6 or later, Firefox 1.5 or later; high speed Internet connection
MSRP: Free

Zoho Writer is part of the Zoho Office Suite of browser-based web applications. The Zoho Office Suite is designed to take the place of any typical office suite including Microsoft Office Standard, Microsoft Office Small Business, openoffice.org v1 or 2, WordPerfect Office X3 and so on. Zoho Office Suite competes directly with the web-based office products offered by Google and ThinkFree. Zoho Office Suite includes:
  • Zoho Writer - word processing
  • Zoho Sheet - spreadsheet
  • Zoho Show - presentation
  • Zoho Wiki - collaboration
  • Zoho Notebook - data collection and collaboration
  • Zoho Meeting - conferencing and collaboration
  • Zoho Projects - project managementZoho CRM - customer management, free up to 3 users
  • Zoho Creator - databaseZoho Planner - scheduling, organizer, planner
  • Zoho Chat - group interaction
  • Zoho Mail - free for individuals, paid accounts for business users


I'm reviewing Zoho Writer for the most obvious reason — I'm a writer. I spend a major part of almost every day inside word processors, text editors and HTML editors. My two primary tools are a robust text editor (TextPad for years, but I switched to UltraEdit-32 in February 2007), and of course an office word processor for large formatted documents, reports, correspondence and so on (Microsoft Word almost exclusively since 1995, but I've been making occasional use of OpenOffice Writer since early 2006). The impetus to review Zoho Writer and the rest of the Zoho online office suite comes from a rather busy travel schedule. I've been looking for a way to centralize document creation and management so that I can write, edit and access anything I need, anywhere I happen to be.

A number of apparently solid online office suites have appeared over the past couple of years, all of which are worlds better than the feature-deficient and largely unusable products of the late '90's and early 2000's. Two online office suites stand out right now. ThinkFree Office is notable for its slick interface, 1GB of free online document storage, and unique public sharing function which allows you to make public any document in your account. Google Docs & Spreadsheets is Google's latest foray into making itself over into a productivity and entertainment platform alongside its already established status as the largest search engine in the world. There are some other comparatively minor players. Zoho is the most impressive of all. From where I sit, it looks almost as though Zoho analyzed the usability of and mistakes made by the other players, then set about the task of creating a better product.

Zoho Writer provides every word processing feature used by writers, editors, researchers and general document producers in most businesses, homes, home offices, vocations, avocations and hobby endeavors. All standard text formatting is available and it all works quickly. Styles are applied instantly, standard font formatting such as bold, superscript, subscript, underline, italic, overstrike and all other normal formatting is available through one-click icons at the top of the online browser window. Features such as font color, text highlighting, background color, and basic graphic additions such as boxes and lines are available on the icon bar as well. The key to responsiveness in online/web applications is generally tied to having enough servers and bandwidth to handle lots of users at once. So far Zoho is handling the load extremely well.

There are some unexpected and welcome features which really help round out Zoho Writer. First and foremost, Undo and Redo functions not only by icon click but also by standard keyboard shortcut (Ctrl+Z and Ctrl+Y respectively). As I got deeper and deeper into Zoho Writer, the admittedly blurry initial line between conventional word processing and online word processing began to disappear. The occasional lag or momentary response delay brings you back to reality of course, but the overall experience is excellent.

During the course of the two week review, I attempted to mess up Zoho Writer. Hard as I tried however, Zoho Writer seems as close to bullet-proof as it needs to be. Over the course of two weeks I managed to write and print a dozen pieces of correspondence, completed and formatted and printed a 25 page research report, and produced a number of other documents while traveling on business.

The big question turned out not to be about Zoho Writer's usefulness, but rather about how much of my document load I wanted to put online. While Zoho's security appears to be robust at this time, I'm not clear on Zoho's policies regarding backups. So as usual, any and all documents you create and store (anywhere) must be backed up on a regular basis. As well, especially after the clutch of stories in early 2007 about several small businesses successfully moving 100% to online office suites, it's important to think about your own bandwidth and the speed of your current Internet access. The faster, the better.

Cons: Functionality in online office suites is essentially limited not by the imaginations of the application programmers, but by the inherent limits of HTML, PHP, AJAX, Java and JScript. There is a riotous mixture of programming. Offices which normally produce multipage correspondence, memos, reports, invoices, orders, faxes, and non-scientific spreadsheets can actually move off the endless and costly Microsoft Office or Corel Office merry-go-round and manage all their office productivity online. The downside is that on the rare occasion you need something more robust, it's simply not available. Some issues occur when you start to split up paragraphs by using carriage returns — lines don't always reformat properly. All online office suites and web applications use scripting, something which is turned off to one extent or another in most browsers these days, so you'll have to change your browser settings to allow scripts (or face repeated pop-ups which ask permission to run whatever script is needed to help the online application perform various functions). Before moving everything online, business owners and managers should talk directly to web application service providers such as Zoho in order to ensure that online document storage is safe and secure and that an easily and quickly accessible backup system is in place. Zoho Office and Google Docs & Spreadsheets & Notebook are all beta products, so guarantees of document security and availability don't really exist and aren't directly offered yet.

Pros: Zoho Writer works well. If your shiny new home or office PC was supplied or bundled with Microsoft Works Suite or Corel WordPerfect Office, you've likely got no worries because you don't have to spend big money on an office suite. But if you don't have the advantage of a bundled suite and the $300-$800 retail price of the big two gives you nightmares and you need something more mobile than the conventional (but free) OpenOffice, you can start using Zoho Writer for free. As we get into the reviews of the rest of the Zoho online office suite, we're going to address the issues of document integration, cross-integration and exchange with conventional office suites, but so far it all looks manageable. Typing and command response is excellent. The general feature and function set should satisfy everyone up to and including intermediate users, which includes the majority of office and home word processor users (there are far fewer true power users out there than you might think). Offices which normally produce multipage correspondence, memos, reports, invoices, orders, faxes, and non-scientific spreadsheets can actually move off the endless and costly Microsoft Office or Corel Office merry-go-round and manage all their office productivity online. It's all definitely worth serious consideration for most small businesses and most homes. Highly recommended.

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