Zoho's free office suite is second only to ThinkFree in our affections, although it runs a distant second. But when value for money is factored in, Microsoft Office 2007 doesn't get a look in.

And Zoho Office is a spry little collection of modules, taking only two seconds to launch the word processor (Writer) and spreadsheet (Sheet).

The Zoho Office suite is extensive: it includes Projects (project management software), Show (presentations), Virtual Office (groupware with a calendar, email client and more), Creator (database manager) and Planner (an organizer for reminders and notes).

Zoho Writer does a fine job of covering the basics you need most days: check spelling, align text, create bulleted or numbered lists and control fonts (size, style, colour).

Don't go expecting much beyond the basic features, however. Zoho Writer is not as rich as Word or ThinkFree. The spell checker will underline mistakes, for instance, but you can't right-click and find the correct spelling from a list.

Among the highlights: Zoho Writer includes several dozen templates - everything from student IDs to medication forms, arranged in no particular order - and you can save your own documents as templates.

Zoho Writer can also compare two different versions of the same document (your current document and the version you saved an hour ago, for example), but like Google's suite, it only highlights differences.

Zoho Writer doesn't use different colours or a strike-through font to differentiate additions from deletions.

While most of the features are self-explanatory for any beginning word processor user, help is weak when you need it in Zoho Writer. For example, there's an "Insert Anchor" feature, but nowhere could we find an explanation of how it worked.

You can add a table with a button click, then click within a cell to format it (change the border style, colour and thickness, plus choose a background colour and cell padding) or choose the "Table" tab from the Format dialog box to set the cell borders.

Zoho Writer trumps the formatting features of Google Docs - more fonts and font sizes, for example, plus easy find and replace.

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