Ning (1.0) Was Too Early

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That was the first thought that crossed my mind as I looked at Google AppEngine. Yeah, there are differences – Ning 1.0 was PHP, AppEngine is Python. You hosted your apps in myapp.ning.com vs myapp.appspot.com. But here is the most important difference of all: Ning was too early, and it was, well, Ning, as opposed to Google. Ning smartly realized that early too, so Ning 2.0 moved to a new sexy model of “Build Your Own Social Network”, but I believe the heart of their Ning 1.0 system is still in there, carefully tucked away so as not to scare the average social networker with query languages and such.

Here is my reaction to AppEngine: I asked our engineers to brush up on their Python. Fortunately, we have experience in it – a lot of our test automation scripts are Python based. I think AppEngine is going to be monstrously successful. And we at Zoho are going to embrace it whereever we can, just as we are already playing with Amazon AWS.

Fundamentally, we are a software company. We don’t compete against Google because of our infrastructure advantage over them, that’s for sure. Initiatives like Amazon AWS and Google AppEngine let us be a software company again – and that is a good thing! So here we come, Python … and to Ning, here is someone who remembered your original innovation. Thank you!

Integration between Zoho Apps

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Apart from rolling out new applications and improving the existing ones, one of the focus for Zoho is integration between applications. In this post, I want to highlight some of my favorite integrations we have already done between Zoho Apps.

Zoho Sheet integration into Zoho CRM

Database based applications like Zoho CRM are primarily form based which make them not-so-easy for simultaneous editing. Lets take a simple example of editing multiple contacts. In form based apps like CRM, you have to open individual contact, edit them and save them. On the other hand, a spreadsheet interface provides a very easy way to edit content. By integration Zoho Sheet into Zoho CRM, we have married the power of relational database back-end with the ease of editing the content in a spreadsheet.

The in Zoho CRM lets you edit multiple contacts in a spreadsheet view and save them to the relational database in Zoho CRM. This certainly is an interesting and unique integration for Zoho.

Zoho Writer & Sheet integration in Zoho Projects

Maintaining all the documents related to your project in your project management application is a no-brainer. If you also have the ability to create documents inside your project management app, it is an added bonus. Zoho Writer & Sheet integration into Zoho Projects lets you create documents under the documents section in Zoho Projects.

Zoho Meeting & Chat integration in Zoho Show

One of the unique and powerful features of Zoho Show is the ability to do Remote Presentations where you can make a slide show virtually with multiple attendees from different locations and everyone is on the same page (slide). But then, what if you want to chat with all the attendees? We have Zoho Chat integrated for this reason. What if you had to share your desktop to all the attendees? Well, we have integrated Zoho Meeting as well for this purpose. With this combination, the Remote capabilities in Zoho Show makes it a free web conferencing solution.

 

Zoho Creator integration in Zoho People

Recently released HR Management application Zoho People is all about customization as each business has its own way of doing things. For this reason Zoho Creator has been adopted for customization of all forms in Zoho People.

Zoho Projects integration into Zoho Invoice

Our recently released Zoho Invoice lets you create invoices for the time you spent on your projects managed from Zoho Projects.

 

Zoho Writer, Sheet & Show integration into Zoho Notebook

Zoho Notebook is a content creation and aggregation tool. To help you aggregate different type of content (including documents), we have integrated Zoho Writer, Sheet & Show documents inside your Notebook pages. You can create a Writer Page or a Sheet page in Notebook where one page in notebook can act as a word processor or a spreadsheet. You can also add Writer, Sheet & Show documents to your Notebook pages.

Zoho Writer, Sheet & Show Integration into Zoho Wiki

Similar to the Notebook integration, it makes perfect sense for your content to exist at a single place like Wiki. We have integrated Zoho Writer, Sheet & Show into Zoho Wiki.

You may not be aware that Zoho Wiki is infact built on top of Zoho Writer. This means our Wiki inherits most of the capabilities of our word processor.

 

Zoho Chat integration with Writer, Sheet, Show, Notebook, Meeting etc

Zoho Chat is the common bus that runs across many Zoho Apps enabling collaborative editing in applications like Writer, Sheet, Notebook etc. It lets you chat with other users while collaborating on a document/spreadsheet/Notebook. In fact, as long as you are logged into Zoho, Chat lets you communicate with others users no matter which Zoho Apps you are on. Currently Zoho Chat is integrated into Zoho Writer, Sheet, Show, Notebook & Meeting.

 

There are other similar integrations, but you get the idea. You’ll probably notice a theme here. Productivity applications can be integrated with other productivity apps to make them more useful (last three integrations). Also, productivity apps can also be integrated with Business Apps to create unique and useful workflows (first five integrations). Going forward, you’ll see us rolling out more interesting integrations. The marriage between productivity apps and business apps is inevitable.

Would you like to see any specific integration in Zoho? We’d love to hear your feedback.

The Washington Post & Telegraph on Zoho

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Telegraph, UK has come up with ‘The 101 most useful websites‘, ranging from Technology to Travel. And Zoho is listed high up at Number 5! Telegraph describes Zoho as,

A suite of free business programs. From word processing and presentation software to tools for taking notes in meetings, planning projects and creating databases.

And ‘The Washington Post’ carries today PCWorld Erik Larkin’s article on the recently released Zoho Invoice. From the article, ‘Zoho Adds Invoicing to its Online Suite

If you run your own business, you no doubt have the same love/hate relationship with invoices that I do. Love them, because they put money in your pocket. Hate them, because they can be a pain in the derriere.

Zoho’s brand-new Invoice service tries to salve some of that pain with an online system for creating, sending and tracking invoices. After spending some time with it just now, I can see it being a decided improvement over my current spreadsheet and Word doc collection.

It’s not hard to create and send invoices, especially when you don’t send that many of them each month, and frankly my manual spreadsheet-and-doc system suffices there. But Zoho’s system makes for easy tracking as well, with available reports on all your paid and pending invoices for today, as well as this week, month, quarter and year. You can also check on sales by customer, invoices by date, tax reports and other records.

Some other nice features such as an optional link to pay an invoice with a Paypal link to your account, exporting invoices as a pdf, and options for creating recurring invoices mean that I’ll be spending more time with this new service to see if it suits my needs.

Thanks to Telegraph and Erik Larkin, PC World & The Washington Post!

Standardization & Maturity of Online Suites

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Google announced the availability of offline functionality in Google Docs today. Just as we announced a few months ago with Zoho Writer, initially the functionality will be available with the word processor. Both Google Docs and Zoho offline functionality is based on Google Gears, an open source initiative from Google.

The offline feature illustrates a couple of the trends going on in online suites worth pointing out: first,  standardization of common functionality, arising from openness,  second, the speed with which online application suites are maturing.

Nine months ago, we were working on offline functionality for Zoho, based on an internally developed technology. Then Google announced the Gears open source initiative, and we made the decision to standardize on the Gears framework. For us, it was an easy decision, because a browser plug-in is not an area where we want to differentiate, and not an area where we believe customers would appreciate such differentiation. It simply raises the burden on users for them to have to use one plug-in for Google and another for Zoho, and a plug-in from Google is far more likely to be adopted on a larger scale, quicker. Google made the right decision to open source this technology, so that the entire ecosystem can rally around a common standard for offline functionality. We are proud to be early adopters of this technology. We differentiate Zoho on features & functions that add real value to users, rather than on framework/infrastructure level issues, like which plug-in to use for the offline edition.

Second, Google’s announcement today illustrates the rapid progress being made in online applications, and how quickly they are emerging as viable competitors to the traditional desktop suites. At Zoho, we are doing a steady stream of updates ourselves, like the mobile offline edition we announced a couple of months ago. It is sometimes hard to believe that the entire space is just over 2 years old, considering how far things have come. This pace will continue, even intensify, over the next few months. Users are going to be big winners of all this competition!

Introducing Zoho Invoice

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We just rolled out a new addition to the Zoho Suite – Zoho Invoice. This new application joins other business applications from Zoho like Zoho CRM, Zoho Projects, Zoho Meeting, Zoho People, Zoho Creator & Zoho DB.

Zoho Invoice is an online invoice generation and tracking application. It lets you create, send and track Invoices & Estimates. To create an invoice, first you add customers, define items (products or services) and then create invoices. Once you create an invoice, you have options to Email, Print or Export your invoice as a PDF.

createinvoice.png

You can define Recurring Profiles (Weekly, Monthly, Quarterly or Yearly) and let Zoho Invoice automatically send invoices to your customers. You can also define late fees, tax, discounts etc for the invoices you create.

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Inside the application, you can also setup a ‘Payment Gateway’ (through PayPal, currently) which lets you accept payments directly from your customers once the invoice is emailed out.

The Settings section lets you first define your Company Details, Logo, Currency (yes, we support multiple currencies) and Tax info. This module has a Templates section which lets you customize the layout, look and feel of your invoices. You have the option to choose from a set of pre-defined templates or you can create your own. You can also define/customize email notifications settings as well for sending customized messages to your customers.

The reporting module provides different reports on the data based on Sales, Customers, Payments, Tax etc. The embedded Zoho Show slideshow below explains the setting up workflow & the various functionalities that Zoho Invoice has on offer.

Being a finance app, security is an important aspect. By default, Zoho Invoice comes with SSL support even for free users.

Integration:
Zoho Invoice currently has an integration into Zoho Projects. If you are working on a project and want to invoice your client, you can do so by creating an invoice and choosing the option to ‘Create Invoice from Zoho Project’. Going forward, this application will also be closely integrated with Zoho CRM and other Zoho Apps.

Pricing:
The pricing is simple & affordable. It is based on the number of invoices you create. It obviously comes with a free version that lets you create upto 5 invoices per month and it has several packages ranging upto the ‘Elite’ package that lets you create upto 1500 invoices/month for $35/Month. More information on the pricing is available here.

Bigger Picture:
As you might have noticed with our recent announcements, our applications go far beyond a productivity suite. We have a suite of applications focused on Productivity & Collaboration. Then, we also have a set of Business Applications needed to run a business online. Zoho Invoice is a nice addition to our Business Application set which addresses the business needs of SMBs.

Please do give this new app a try and let us know your feedback.

Zoho Wiki Update : Backup, Page Options, Customizable Footer etc

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We’ve rolled out some important changes in Zoho Wiki over the last couple of weeks.

Wiki Backup : Taking a wiki backup has been one of the top requirements of our users. The wiki owner/administrator can now find this option under Settings -> General -> BackUp -> ‘Click to download the backup’. You will get a zipped file containing all the pages of your Wiki as HTML files.

Page Options : In the previous update, we brought in page level permissions. Now, there are even more options for each of your wiki pages.

  • Duplicate Page : You can make copies of a page now. This comes in handy when your Wiki consists of almost similar pages. Create a template page & make duplicate copies of it.
  • Copy to (another Wiki) : You can copy a page to another Wiki which is yours or which you are subscribed to.
  • Print Preview : Print a Wiki page (without the Wiki side panel etc)
  • Other options like delete, rename, adding a sub-page, setting a page as the Wiki’s home page, seeing/changing the page’s permissions, viewing all/public/group/private pages are part of the ‘Recently Changed Pages’ module in the Wiki’s side panel

Customizable Footer : Another new customization option which will give a more native feel & individuality to your Wiki. Click on Settings -> Customization -> Use customizable footer and set your own footer.

Other changes in this update include :

  • An option to specify whether you would the visitors of your Wiki to send feedback to you by email
  • The order is maintained now during drag-and-drop of all pages in the wiki’s Site Map (previously, the order wasn’t preserved in the root level pages)

The above changes illustrated using a Zoho Show slide show below.

Try out the new features in Zoho Wiki and as always, we’ll be glad hearing your feedback!

ps : Help documentation for Zoho CRM & Zoho Show are now available as Zoho Wikis!

On Dominant Organizations

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As I was reading Paul Graham’s latest essay on small and large companies, I remembered something I noticed several years ago, something akin to Moore’s Law:

The dominant technology company in a generation reaches its pinnacle at about half the size of the dominant company in the previous generation, and it retains its dominance for half as long.

IBM was dominant for roughly 30 years. Microsoft’s domination lasted about 15 years. Google’s domination started at around 2005, I would think.

Why would such a thing be true? Same technological forces that are reshaping our lives are also impacting economies of scale. Technologies are lowering transaction costs, thereby making organizations reach their peak economic power at smaller scales. A related point which uses the Coase Theorem is made here.