Here’s the problem: Your
three-partner CPA firm based in Boston is on a
tight deadline to prepare an audit report for a
client. One partner is at the client’s
Philadelphia headquarters; another is traveling in
Houston; and you’re in Boston. The three of you
must collaborate on the report; however, you’re
not enthusiastic about editing, reviewing and
trading comments on this complex subject via
e-mail. But since your firm is hardly high-tech,
you don’t see any options.
are. Thanks to several new Web-based office
suites, the three of you have access to the
technical tools you need to collaborate on the
same document or spreadsheet, at the
same time and from different
locations. As if that’s not enough, these
collaboration tools come free of charge—although
that may change in the future.
most fully matured Web sites that can handle such
collaboration are Google Docs & Spreadsheets
http://docs.google.com) and Zoho (www.zoho.com). This
article shows you how their Web-based office
suites can add a whole new dimension to how, where
and when you perform professional tasks.
Other online office suites include AjaxOffice
and GOffice (www.goffice.com).
There also are stand-alone online spreadsheets
such as EditGrid ( www.editgrid.com)
and NumSum (www.numsum.com),
but none of their tools is as powerful and easy to
use as Google’s and Zoho’s.
Think of the
two Web applications as slimmed-down versions of
Microsoft Office’s Word and Excel. However, unlike
Microsoft Office, which is installed on a user’s
computer, these applications reside on the Web
site and must be accessed via the Internet. To get
started, you can either create a file at the site
or you can upload a Word document or an Excel
spreadsheet from your computer. Colleagues can
then access it on the site (after you give them
permission), download it to their computers or
even copy it to another Web site.
1 shows a typical Google Docs & Spreadsheets
Exhibit 2 shows a typical document.
Exhibit 3 illustrates a typical Google
spreadsheet, which was converted from an Excel
Since files can be stored at these Web sites, a
traveling CPA doesn’t have to carry files in bulky
storage media or worry about the synchronization
of multiple copies of a document or spreadsheet.
In addition, the sites use version control to
track changes on all files. All previous versions
of a file, including comments, are stored. Users
can roll back to a previous version and see who
made what change in which revision.
Exhibit 4 illustrates a roll-back menu.
Exhibit 5 illustrates a Google document that
can simultaneously display two previous versions
of a document.
Zoho has a feature some other products lack: a
function that resembles Microsoft Office’s
PowerPoint. With that application, users can set
up a presentation at a remote location and control
it from their distant office.
Google and Zoho applications contain most
conventional editing and format functions,
including spell-checking. The sites are accessible
via Internet Explorer or Firefox.
and Zoho even allow users to send files to PDAs
(personal digital assistants) or cell phones.
Google permits multiple users to chat via instant
messages when they are working on the same
spreadsheet. In addition, all the online suites
have tools to publish documents on other Web sites
or blogs. (For more on blogs, see “
Jump on the Blog Wagon ” JofA ,
June 06, page 28).
The applications still
have some rough edges. For instance, they lack
functions such as headers and footers, symbol
insertion, footnotes and endnotes, and paragraph
controls such as line-spacing options. But those
refinements will surely be added soon.
wonders, as technology progresses and the Internet
speeds up and becomes more reliable, whether such
Web sites’ applications eventually will gain favor
over ones that need to be installed onto local
hard drives. Even today, using applications on a
Web site makes good sense, not only because they
provide collaboration, but also because they
relieve users of the need to upgrade and maintain
, Ph.D., is an assistant professor of
accounting at Towson University, Towson, Md. His
e-mail address is
. Hui Du , MBA, Ph.D., is an
assistant professor of accounting at the
University of Texas–Pan American, College of
Business Administration, Edinburg, Texas. Her
e-mail address is