Over the years, as I've added laptops, smartphones and tablet computers to the collection of desktop machines I use at home and work, it's become a chore to keep track of which files are where. Once I bring in friends and colleagues to collaborate on some of these documents, the task becomes downright painful.
Because my devices are all connected to the Internet in one way or another, I'm able to take advantage of syncing features that come with the leading word processing and spreadsheet packages. Microsoft's Office is the industry leader and a good option when you're working with others. The main drawback is the price — $100 a year for up to five computers and five phones. Google and Apple have free or cheaper alternatives that may fit your needs better, but both have limitations.
Which one will work best for you? That depends on your sharing and syncing needs.
WORKING ON ONE COMPUTER
The Office package, which includes Word for word processing, Excel for spreadsheets and PowerPoint for presentations, is an excellent option when you have to collaborate with a lot of people.
Like it or not, Office is what just about everyone else uses, and using it yourself will save you from headaches when exchanging files with others. Word and Excel are both packed with features, more than most people will ever need.
If you're working on only one computer, you probably don't need the $100-a-year subscription. For a one-time payment of $140, you can purchase and install Word, Excel and PowerPoint on a single Windows or Mac computer. Keep in mind, the Mac package was released in late 2010 and will likely get an update next year. A subscription gets you the update for no extra charge.
Office isn't a viable option if your computer is a tablet. The Office software can be installed only on Windows tablets — not the more prevalent iPads or Android tablets. You can work with Word and Excel files on those devices using software made by other companies or Web-based apps made by Microsoft. But you'll be sacrificing the power of having Microsoft's software installed right on your device, and you'll need a continuous online connection with Microsoft's Web Apps.
In recent months, Microsoft has released versions of Office for the iPhone and Android phones, but functionality is limited. The apps are designed for viewing and light editing, not for complex spreadsheets. The apps come with the