Review: Is Google Still The Ajax King?

Google has taken a decisive lead in creative Ajax-based applications, but challengers abound. We review 20 other online apps to see how they stack up against Google's offerings.
Word Processors

The Winner: Zoho Writer
Ajax-based word processors may be good for collaboration, and they can offer solid basic functionality. But for power features, I fully expected that I'd have to turn to their desktop-based counterparts.

For image-heavy documents, Zoho Writer is superior to Microsoft Word.
Click image to enlarge and to launch image gallery.

Wrong, at least as far as Zoho Writer is concerned. This site gives you all the collaboration tools you'd expect in an Ajax application, along with a suite of features that any power user would love. In fact, for some purposes, such as creating graphics-heavy documents or documents for which you want an HTML version, it beats Microsoft Word.

For a start, it includes very good text-handling, the ability to change font color and size, a spell-checker, undo, and more -- pretty much all the solid basics of a word processor. It's all accessible via an intuitive toolbar whose icons look much like Word's.

Ajax Apps

•  Introduction

•  Calendars

•  E-Mail

•  Info Managers

•  Spreadsheets

•  Webtops

•  Word Processors

•  Image Gallery

It excels in creation of HTML pages, because it automatically creates an HTML version of any file as you type. You can toggle between normal and HTML views, and you can easily add your own HTML tags. It also includes dialog boxes for coding links, anchors, and graphics. In addition, Zoho Writer's insert-image feature outstrips Word's, because it lets you customize spacing and alignment -- and it then automatically converts all that to the proper HTML code.

Zoho Writer can also export files to many formats, including Word .DOC files, Rich Text Format (.RTF), text files, PDF, HTML, the Open Office .SXW extension, and OpenDocument's .ODT format.

As for collaboration, it's got what you need as well. It's simple to invite others to view or get read/write access to the document. Bloggers will appreciate its ability to link directly into accounts for Blogger, LiveJournal, WordPress, and TypePad, and to upload your current document as a post.

There is one downside to this site: I found it to be slow to load, and the initial load often took a few minutes. But that's a small price to pay for such a power-packed word processor. The only hard thing to believe about Zoho Writer is that it's actually free.

The Runner-Up: Writely
Writely offers solid, straightforward word-processing tools, automatic HTML creation, and the ability to save in multiple formats, including .DOC, .RTF, .PDF, .HTML and OpenOffice. And, like Zoho Writer, it lets you publish your documents to a variety of blogs. Writely, though, doesn't offer the advanced word processing tools available in Zoho Writer, so has to settle for runner-up status.

Writely offers solid word processing, but it's not as powerful as Zoho Writer.
Click image to enlarge and to launch image gallery.

Google bought this site a while back, but has yet to put its stamp on it. If you're looking for a site with good, basic word processing capabilities, and very good collaboration tools, Writely is worth a try.

Also Available:

ajaxWrite: If you're just looking to create a simple document and don't need collaboration tools or the ability to manage multiple files, ajaxWrite is worth a look. It works only with Mozilla browsers, though, and lacks power features. (Click here for image.)

Writeboard: Welcome to the 1980s. Want to make text bold? You'll have to put the characters * and * around it. For big text, first type in h1. All that's missing is a DOS prompt and a floppy disk. No thanks -- been there, done that. (Click here for image.)

--Preston Gralla

Editor's Choice
Sara Peters, Editor-in-Chief, InformationWeek / Network Computing
John Edwards, Technology Journalist & Author
Shane Snider, Senior Writer, InformationWeek
Sara Peters, Editor-in-Chief, InformationWeek / Network Computing
Brandon Taylor, Digital Editorial Program Manager
Jessica Davis, Senior Editor
John Edwards, Technology Journalist & Author