C.G. Lynch @ CIO.com on Zoho

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In an article titled ‘Understanding Zoho, the Quiet Company Taking on Google and Microsoft‘, C.G. Lynch does a comprehensive take on Zoho. Excerpts from the article :

Zoho is betting on the cheapness of delivering software over the Web and hosting the data on their own servers to cannibalize the traditional “on premise” method of businesses buying software (like Microsoft’s) on discs and installing it manually on employee workstations and company servers.

Zoho’s software doesn’t care what kind of hardware companies use, or what operating systems run on top of them. People merely need an internet connection and a Web-browser to access and use Zoho applications.

“Software is commoditizing as a result,” says Sridhar Vembu, the CEO of both Zoho and its parent organization, AdventNet, a privately held company that handles IT support and data center maintenance. “It’s going to be a more high volume, low margin business now.”

As Zoho expanded the capacity of its data centers and its developers began building more online software beyond its first application (Zoho Writer, a word processor), the vendor gained more interest from small and medium sized businesses (SMBs), such as law firms and doctors offices who were looking for minimal IT costs, says Raju Vegesna, the company’s chief evangelist. They have also received business from non-profits and the public sector, such as Teachers Without Borders and the Hawaii State Government.

More recently, they have begun seeing interest from large enterprises, particularly on the departmental level, where they have taken advantage of some of the collaborative functions (such as document sharing and wikis) and the addition of CRM software.

Many parts of Zoho’s offering are free for up to a few users. Unlike Google Apps, their experience is not subsidized by ads.

Zoho has focused on bringing the rich functionality of Microsoft Office to the Web, something Microsoft themselves have failed to do for fear of cannibalizing their current business model of delivering software on premise and with higher margins. Zoho also used a Google tool, Google Gears, to make portions of the Zoho applications suite work offline.

Thanks, C.G. Lynch, CIO.com for the nice article and Jonathan Yarmis of AMR Research for the comments.

A Better Way to Manage Temporary/Contract Employees’ data

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More often, a HR professional meets a situation where he/she wants to manage a temporary/contract employee’s data in their HR system. But with most of the HR software pricing plans being based on number of employees, this becomes a delicate issue. Issue where the HR professional feels, “Why should I increase my cost by paying for a temporary employee? But it’s necessary to maintain their data too, what should I do?”. And they turn to a spreadsheet for help again. With Zoho People, you can overcome this problem using the “Dummy User” profile.

Employees who need not login to the system (Zoho People pricing is based on Employees who require login) can be added as dummy employees in Zoho People. Click on Organization -> Employee -> Add dummy employee or Settings -> Dummy employee -> Add dummy employee. These employees will not be considered for licensing fees and will be available for any business process like a normal employee inside the system and will appear in “Org chart”, “Employee List”, “Available as an interviewer”,”can be of any role” etc. But will not be able to login to the system and do not receive any mails from the system.

You can migrate Dummy Employees to Employees

Your temporary/contract employees can be migrated to regular employees, from Settings -> Dummy employee -> Migrate. Once migrated, they will receive invitation mails to join into the organization and they can login into the system.

Non-admin user can add Dummy Employees

Adding dummy employee is permission based and can be given to any role. To configure, Go to Settings -> Security -> Role of the person to whom you want to allow adding dummy employees -> Global permission -> Check Dummy Employee. Once configured, then the user can login and go to Self service -> All Forms -> Employee -> View (my/team/all) data -> Form Actions -> Add dummy user.

Hope you find this Zoho People feature useful. We will be happy to hear your comments.

Social Mapping Bret Taylor with 70,000+ FriendFeeders

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Akshay at Social Media Research Blog has done something very interesting. He wants to find how every user in FriendFeed is connected to Bret Taylor, FriendFeed’s founder (reminded me of a similar example in Malcolm Gladwell’s book, ‘The Tipping Point’ – the one mentioned there is actor Kevin Bacon). Akshay has all his data on Zoho Sheet containing more than 70,000 users listed along with their ‘bret number’ – the degrees of freedom or separation between you & Bret. That’s the largest public sheet that I’ve come across so far.

If you are on FriendFeed, find your ‘bret number‘.

Zoho Wiki : Watch Wikis and Wiki Pages

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You have created a couple of Zoho wikis and have shared it with your team or made it public. Now you would like to be notified whenever someone edits your Wiki or a specific Wiki page. And here’s one more scenario – you want to watch a public Wiki that you are interested in. Zoho Wiki’s ‘Watch this Wiki/Wiki page’ option comes in useful.

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You can either choose to watch a specific wiki page or a whole wiki.


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And you will be notified by email whenever there’s some edit happening to that wiki page or wiki. Use this Zoho Wiki feature to keep yourselves up-to-date on wikis you own or your favorite wiki.

Zoho Projects Update : Multiple Admins, Task – Documents/Forums Mapping etc

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Zoho Projects underwent an update just now and the below features are now available.

Multiple Admins : Till now, Zoho Projects followed the single admin concept. But from now on, there can be multiple admins. The one who created the Zoho Projects account is assigned the super-admin / portal owner role. And he/she can designate other members as Administrators. These administrators have all the privileges as the portal owner except upgrading/downgrading the Zoho Projects account & changing the credit card details.

Task-Documents and Task-Forums Mapping : Along with adding Notes to a task (which is useful for knowing a task’s status etc), documents uploaded to Zoho Projects and discussion forums created for a project can now be associated with tasks. Multiple documents/forums can be associated with a task and a forum/document can be associated with any number of tasks.

Managers can add Clients : Project members in Manager role can now add (external) client members to the projects they manage. This gives a Manager fuller control over the project(s) he/she manages.

Separate iCal link for Google Calendar : Google Calendar follows the VEVENT component versus the VTODO component that needs to be followed for tasks/tasklists/milestones. To support GCal, Zoho Projects now has a separate GCal link. Clicking on the links, you can download an .ics file which you can import into your iCalendar / Google Calendar.

Test drive the new features in Zoho Projects and we would be glad hearing your comments.

Cloud Computers and Lazy Computing

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There is a NYTimes story today on the rise of “cloud computers” and net-tops like the Asus EEE. I have called them Fireboxes in the past myself, but cloud computer would work! Here are some reasons I think why this trend is inevitable.

1. Convenience: On any kind of decent broadband connection, launching a cloud application is faster than launching the desktop equivalent.The fact that you could do that from just about any machine is icing on the cake. On a regular basis, I now work from 4 different machines: 2 desktops and 2 laptops (see reason 3 why).

2. Lazy Computing: flossing teeth, backing up files – I don’t want to diss those oh-so-disciplined folks who do these regularly, but alas, I am not one of them. My single biggest reason for switching to cloud applications is that I never have to do a backup ever again – that’s what data center administrators are for. I was reminded of it twice recently, because two laptops decided to crash on me suddenly. That brings up the third point.

3. Resurrection of old computers: I actually like to use old computers. Partly it is to force myself to experience our own software in fairly challenging circumstances. The reason reason is that there are plenty of unwanted old computers around, so using old machines you are always in a state of super-abundance. In fact, one of my laptops is a “loaner” from a friend who was going to send it for recycling – Firefox works great on that one!

One consequence of using older computers is I encounter frequent crashes. But it is not just old computers that crash. Last week, a brand new loaner given to me by our sysadmins in our Chennai office had a disk crash too. Since I don’t store anything on the local machine, it was a 2 minute operation to swap it with another laptop and I was on the cloud again.

Try moving yourself to the cloud entirely. I bet you won’t ever go back!

(Update: Just after I posted this, I find that Mike Arrington wants a dead simple web tablet. I would love to buy one too!)