Google has almost become synonymous with business office tools through its Google Docs and Google Apps packages – not forgetting GMail of course – but for the wary individual looking to enjoy cloud-based office services there are alternatives.

Your desire for not wanting to associate with the Big G may be to do with security, its new privacy statement or a host of other reasons and the good news is that you will not have to suffer substandard office services because there are some damn good rivals out there in the wild.

Comprehensive Alternatives

In my mind the best office alternative to Google Docs/Apps is Zoho which, if it is possible, has more modules for businesses to pick and choose from. Within the core office section you have the obvious docs, spreadsheet, presentation and calendar functions. Optional modules include invoicing, a CRM facility … actually the list goes on and on – go check it out.

One of the advantages of Zoho over Google is that the interface is far more similar to conventional office suites so if you are currently using Microsoft Office your employees will find the migration a smooth and familiar affair. As with Gmail, if you prefer to use your business domain name rather than business@zoho.com you can utilise the Zoho mailhosting facility which is very easy to set up. Zoho is currently used by more than five million people so the company’s reliability is not in question.

A relative newcomer and one I am very impressed with is TeamLab. At first sight it looks like a fairly standard online collaboration package but dig deeper and you will find that it has its own build in office suite with docs, spreadsheet, presentation and drawing modules. TeamLab’s document interface again is very conventional so should you go down this route your team will find their feet very quickly.

Like Zoho, TeamLab has its own built in calendar module and, again like Zoho, is is stand alone so you cannot link up with colleagues or clients that use something like Google Calendar.

If linking up to the outside world is important then the best calendaring service out there is Tungle.me. This goes one step beyond you setting up your own calendar and allows people you work with and clients to see when you have gaps in your diary so they can book meetings. This is achieved by letting Tungle.Me access your primary business calendar and it is compatible with Outlook, Google, iCal, Blackberry, Lotus Notes. Microsoft Live and a few others.

If you find the thought of others knowing what spare time you have and want a stand alone third party calendar you will find a selection here.

If you are self employed and a domain name is not important but a Gmail alternative is then I highly recommend GMX. The important thing about GMX is that the service is run from Germany which has some of the tightest privacy laws in the world. You can run it as a webmail service or pick up up via POP3 or IMSAP via a third party email client such as Thunderbird.

As you would expect from a high end service there is excellent spam protection and you can import and pick up other email accounts through your GMX inbox and use filters to track and separate.

GMX also has its own calendar and task list module which is very comprehensive and has all the tools such as invite guests that you would expect.

Finally, and for some this could be out of the frying pan into the fire, you have Microsoft’s Skydrive/Live service which uses Hotmail as the email module and has a cloud based mini Office 365 suite bolted on with 25gb of storage space. Some years back Hotmail was a joke because of the amount of spam it attracted but Microsoft have changed that and the junk mail filtering is as good as Google’s.

In the Skydrive office module you can create Word documents, Excel spreadsheets, PowerPoint presentations and OneNote, er, notes. If you access your documents via the browser you have the choice of working on them online or by automatically downloading them to the desktop module.

If you choose the latter you can save any changes back to the Skydrive folders they originated from. Of course, if you use Skydrive the interface bears a very uncanny resemblance to Office! As well as offering email, Hotmail also has its own build in calendar.

I have been critical of Microsoft’s cloud approaches in the past but here it offers a very attractive to the very small business or self employed individual and its 25gb of storage is one of the best around.