“Are you just doing an online MS Office?”

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I get asked this question often, so I might as well address it. The “just” even betrays a sense of “That is such a waste of time”, though the questioner may be too polite to say it in so many words. Straight answer: No, we are not building “just” that, though that is not because we think MS Office is obsolete (quick, what software did you use to make your last presentation?) For one, an online productivity suite naturally can take advantage of its connected status, to provide much richer collaboration functionality. Features like real time collaborative editing, often used by students working on joint reports, just come in naturally. Presentations can just as easily be made to a remote audience as to a local one, as Zoho Show enables.

I believe the reason we, in particular, get asked that question is that we do aim for a fair degree of compatibility with MS Office in terms of features and functionality. We aim to blend in the web-connected features, while keeping what users are already familiar with. As an example, we exploit the easy, loose-coupled interactions possible between web services, to embed Zoho Sheet charts in Zoho Writer. But that comes in unobstrusively, a single button to embed HTML, and no big deal is made of it.

And as Zoho evolves, we are looking at new ideas, like blending in familiar spreadsheet-like interfaces to what are fundamentally database products, like Zoho Creator or Zoho Projects. The vision here is “one set of data, many ways of visualizing it”.

Yes, we acknowledge the inspiration from MS Office. But we also seek other sources of inspiration, from blogging to wikis to social networking, and our goal is to use these sources of inspiration to create something that starts off with the familiar, and then breaks new ground. Time will tell how well we succeed in this.

We are betting on laziness

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We attended the Office 2.0 Conference in San Franciso for the past 2 days. Many of the discussions centered around “Will people throw away desktop apps to use web apps? What about security? What about resistance to change?” and so on. Our position is simple: it fits some people’s usage habits to use online apps – for example it fits mine well. For other people, their usage patterns and habits need installed software. Perfectly fine. Habits change.

I am personally of the lazy kind who never properly backs up data, don’t keep all the anti-virus, anti-spam etc. up-to-date, and so on. Yes, “IT” is supposed to take care of it at work, but what about the situation of using the home machine for work purposes (what? you have never done that?) The reality is that in small and mid-sized companies, even in some large companies, lazy people like me are just too common and no matter how efficient and well-managed IT is, our PCs will generally be semi-managed.

So for this set of folks, it is just a relief to know that the data is in a professionally managed data center. Sure, disasters can happen even there, but I know my unbacked-up PC at home has a lot higher odds of failure. And such people will embrace online apps just to get out of those unwanted chores. Over time, other people will develop laziness – it is all too easy, trust me ;-)

So we are betting on laziness.

Server Status Update

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You may have experienced slow response on most Zoho services today, particularly Zoho Writer, Zoho Sheet & Zoho Creator. We have had a surge of traffic, several times our normal traffic levels, due to a confluence of press coverage around the introduction of Zoho VO, and the Office 2.0 conference related coverage. We are in the process of significantly expanding our server capacity to handle the increased load. We apologize for the inconvenience. We will do a better job in future to stay ahead of demand, but our excuse is that it is moving even faster than we can keep up.

Zoho Projects goes out of Beta!

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Zoho Projects had an update minutes earlier. With this update, it joins Zoho CRM as the second Zoho service to move out of Beta. Salient points of the release include :

# You can now have multiple projects by signing-up for premium plans. The one project free version continues to be there
# Zoho Projects will completely be free for Open Source projects
# Zoho Projects now has a secure connection through SSL
# Zoho Projects now provides Unicode (UTF-8 character set) support allowing international users to type in their language.

Check out the new Zoho Projects. For more on premium plans click here.

Versioning Capability in Zoho Sheet

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If you’d noticed, we’d added an important feature in our previous update more than a week back – Versioning. You now have revision control capability in your spreadsheets!

You can find a new tab (quite modestly named) ‘More Actions’ in the main menu – on the top section – of your Zoho Sheet. Opening this tab will reveal a few options, namely :

  • Save as new document
  • Mark as new version
  • View version history
More Actions Tab on the Main Menu

Needless to say, they’re self-explanatory. One thing you need to note is that you need to specifically ‘mark’ your versions. ‘Marking’ means nothing but placing an identity to a particular version so that you can revert back to that stage of your sheet when you need to.

Typically, you can mark a version before doing some notable change to your sheet or before you share your sheet with others. The user(s) you share your sheet with can also mark his version(s) after he performs any changes (but no worry, only if he has ‘Write’ access granted).

Version History

The ‘Version History’ feature allows you to view all your sheet-specific version information (along with their date/time of creation), revert to an old version if you need to or delete your older versions.

Just an additional reminder: ‘Fill Series’ feature is now supported too!

Zoho Single Sign-on is On!

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The long wait for a unified Zoho sign-in is finally over. This post is about how to get the best out of Zoho Single Sign-on or Zoho Accounts – one of the major milestones to happen at Zoho. All the existing users and new users registering with Zoho can now access the following Zoho services – Zoho Writer, Zoho Sheet, Zoho Show, Zoho Planner, Zoho Creator & Zoho Chat – with a single user name (or email ID) and password. More Zoho services will be brought under this unified system in the near future.

We have tried addressing as many scenarios as possible.

Scenario 1 : You have an account with only one of the Zoho’s services
If you have an account with only one of the Zoho’s services, you will be able to access it as before. There is an exception here though – assume you have a Zoho Planner account that you have been accessing through your user name, say, “johndoe”. Due to the merging of different Zoho services, there may be other “johndoe”s registered in other Zoho services. So, your user name ‘may’ have got changed to “johndoe1″ or something similar. If you are not able to login with “johndoe”, use your email ID that you had associated with your user name. It should work. If you get a password error, click on the “Forgot my password” link & you will get an email on how to get a new password.

Assume you have an account with only one of the Zoho services, say Zoho Writer. You can use the same email ID & password and login to other Zoho services as well which have come under the Zoho Accounts now – Zoho Sheet, Zoho Show, Zoho Planner, Zoho Creator & Zoho Chat. This applies to new users also who are signing up to one of the Zoho services as mentioned above. You can access the other Zoho services without signing-up separately.

Scenario 2 : You have accounts with multiple Zoho services, having used the same email ID to associate with your different user names
If you have accounts with multiple Zoho services, having used the same email ID to associate with your different user names, you can access the multiple Zoho services with that email ID as before. The change comes only if you have used multiple passwords, as only a single password will work now. The order of precedence is Zoho Show, Zoho Creator, Zoho Sheet, Zoho Planner, Zoho Chat & finally Zoho Writer (as applicable with whichever services you have accounts with).

Scenario 3 : You have used different user names to register with the different Zoho services (or different email IDs to go with your different user names)
If you have used different user names to register with the different Zoho services (or different email IDs to go with your different user names), you can merge them to come under a single email ID that you prefer. Note that a user name will be assigned by Zoho automatically and this cannot be changed.

You will be getting an email from us shortly which will list all the Zoho services you are registered with and a few other details. Login to one of the Zoho services and you will see a ‘My Accounts’ link at the top-right. Clicking on it will lead you to the Zoho Accounts page. You can merge your different accounts there.

Let me explain this with an example. You have a Zoho Writer account with “johndoe@yahoo.com” and a Zoho Chat account with another of your email IDs, “johndoe@gmail.com”. Assume you wish to have “johndoe@yahoo.com” as your single Zoho ID from now on. Going to the Zoho Accounts page of “johndoe@yahoo.com”, you will have Zoho Writer listed as the service you have an account with already. Zoho Chat will be listed at the bottom table. Click on the ‘Merge’ link to the right of ‘Zoho Chat’, give your email ID (as “johndoe@gmail.com”) & password there and click on merge. You will see Zoho Chat added to the top table. From now on, you can access your Zoho Chat account as johndoe@yahoo.com

Refer the Zoho SSO Help and Zoho SSO FAQ pages for more.

If you face any issues in accessing any of your Zoho service accounts or have trouble in moving to the unified Zoho Accounts system, do write to us at accounts@zoho.com.