Zoho Creator : Earth-Shaking Usability Advances

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That’s what Jack Bellis at UsabilityInstitute.com is saying :

I clicked on Zoho and never looked back at the other links. Ho ho ho… in 10 minutes my school-age daughter had a database in her home page without my fingers touching the keyboard. Zoho has all sorts of served, office-style tools, and I can’t figure out what their cost basis is other than free, but who cares.

I’ve labeled this a “usability” advance, but that’s a provocative point. The usability of Zoho’s App Creator isn’t the items in its interface, but the premise of the tool itself. (Mind you, it is full of spectacular usability… its scripting tool is in fact a huge usability model, a very strongly menu-supported command syntax, as are many other items in the interface.) I suppose my point is that the usability of the web has increased. I continue to maintain that online database apps are on a par with the technology advance of the Xerox machine and publishing in general, with the ability to facilitate mass movements of popular action… social upheaval… change… revolutions.

Viva la Revolución! Try Zoho Creator now.

Zoho Business: Scheduled Maintenance on Oct 28

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We’ve scheduled a maintenance for Zoho Business on Sunday, October 28, 2007 between 10.30 PM and 11.30 PM PDT. During this time, access to Zoho Business will not be available.

We apologize for any inconveniences that this may cause and appreciate your patience.

[Update @ 11.30 PM PDT] Maintenance has successfully been completed. Access to Zoho Business is available now. Thank you for your patience and co-operation.

Office vs Online Office : Telephone vs Mobile Phone

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Many users consider online office applications as a replica of their offline counterparts. While the purpose of these applications is the same, their usage mode is significantly different.

The right analogy here is to compare offline office suites to traditional wired telephones and online office suites to mobile phones. The core function for both the devices is the same, but the mobility adds a new dimension to cell phones. Attaching a camera to your land line doesn’t make sense, but now that the phone is mobile and is available wherever you go, it makes perfect sense. Mobility adds this new dimension. Similarly there are other dimensions (like collaborative editing) which are unique to online applications. You’ll see some interesting use cases like this emerge which are traditionally not possible.

But then, lets be practical. Online office applications do have their limitations and they don’t yet offer whatever their offline counterparts offer today. That doesn’t mean they won’t get there. Its a matter of time. Online office suites are just 2 years old which probably can be compared to early versions of mobile phones. Over the next few years, you’ll see greater improvements. Going forward we might see similarities between adoption of online office suites and mobile phones where some users will solely depend on mobile phones, some users using both and some sticking with their wired line.

Related Article:
Document vs Web Document

Zoho Projects Update : More options in Timesheet, Doc Management etc

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The latest Zoho Projects update added quite a few handy features. You can now add links to web pages and embed HTML code snippets (of say Zoho Show presentations and YouTube videos) related to your projects in a separate Links section under ‘Documents’. The links can be tagged for easy classification and can be searched across.

Non-billable hours for tasks done unrelated to the project can now be mentioned in the Timesheet. Export options (both per project and across multiple projects for a user) now support billable/non-billable hours as well.

Project-related documents that you store centrally at Zoho Projects are now made sortable based on name. And in case of multiple persons in your team having the same first name – the email address will get shown in the Task Owner field for easy differentiation.

A few bug fixes have gone in as well. Try the latest Zoho Projects and we will be glad hearing your feedback as always.

Use Case: Online Office to get homework done collaboratively

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There are many unique use cases for online office applications where traditional office suites cannot be used.

Last Friday there was a segment on WCBS TV (thanks for the tip, Allen) talking about usefulness of online office suites like Zoho for getting homework done remotely and collaboratively. Kids can take their parent’s help on their homework while working remotely.

The ability for multiple users to work on the same document/page at the same time remotely is a unique benefit for online office suites and springs such interesting use cases. Here is the video.

Last month Wall Street Journal also talked about the same use case in their article ‘Checking the Kids’ Homework Over the Internet‘.

If you have any interesting use cases with online office suites, do let us know.

Related Articles:

Web Apps & Collaboration: The Big Picture

Document vs Web Document

Ask Zoho: Limitations

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This is another question we get, particularly from business-oriented users. My policy always is to tell the truth, and no marketing BS, please. Does Zoho do everything that MS Office does? No. It does not yet, and it will take a while to reach feature parity. While it can handle the majority of documents from the MS Office world, it cannot handle everything. It cannot as yet handle complex spreadsheets. It cannot do transitions and effects in Zoho Show. These are the kinds of things our engineering is working on. It is our goal to offer reasonable feature parity, but I will be the first to acknowledge that we have some ways to go. There are no fundamental technological limits here – it is simply sweat and blood and toil (& time!) needed to get there. That self-awareness of our limitations is also why we don’t charge business users yet, instead preferring to encourage them to use Zoho free in the meantime.

Does that mean Zoho is pointless now, until we overcome all those limitations, until it becomes full featured? If it were a desktop suite, yes, it would be kind of pointless to offer a less-than-full-featured experience – the only reason to use it would be the price, which is not a sufficient reason for most people. But in an online application, there is sufficient additional value in a completely different dimension to make it quite useful in many different contexts. I am typing this blog post in Zoho Writer, sitting in a friend’s office. My aging laptop is finally quitting on me, so I borrowed one of his spare old PCs (it runs Windows ME, but Firefox works so well on it that I am typing this post in Zoho Writer!). This anytime, anywhere access to data and apps is one key benefit; easy collaboration is another benefit. Finally, in a pinch, an old PC can serve just as well as a point of access for web apps like Zoho. Granted, all of these don’t substitute for features, but they do make the experience worthwhile, as so many users have found out.

Offering value in a different dimension is not particularly unique to online vs desktop app debate. An MP3 player doesn’t play music to the same fidelity as a full fledged home entertainment system. Yet, the mobility that comes with an MP3 player more than compensates for the slight reduction in sound quality. A cell-phone integrated camera is not as good as a stand-alone camera. But I never owned a real camera, because I wasn’t much of a photographer, so I knew I would never carry around a camera; a cell-phone camera actually makes me take an occasional photo. YouTube video clips don’t replace the TV viewing experience – they add value in a completely different dimension.

And Zoho is very much work in progress. We are working hard on features, functions and user experience – as an example, Zoho Writer and Zoho Creator are slated for some key updates over the next few days. Therein lies another key benefit of the web service model: you inherit those features with no effort at all.

We have come a long way in the last 2 years, but we recognize we still have a long way to go. One thing we assure our users: Zoho will keep getting better!