Your thoughts on Zoho

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The past few days have brought much recognition for Zoho. The Zoho single sign-on started it all. Techcrunch’s coverage about Zoho Virtual Office’s Private Beta launch amplified it much further. We beat the Google Docs & Spreadsheets launch news by a whisker. And bloggers/analysts invariably quoted Zoho wherever Google was mentioned. All this was happening while the first Office 2.0 Conference was being held by Ismael Ghalimi.

As one who follows Zoho news around the blogosphere and the net, some of the coverage on Zoho in the past few days (in no particular order) here :

Zoho has a much more robust set of office tools with 13+ online tools available. The tools available on Zoho are much more integrated than Google’s and include a product called Zoho Virtual Office. Zoho Virtual office provides web based email, web documents and sharing, calendar, tasks and reporting, contacts, notes, bookmarks, instant Messaging, groupspace, wireless handheld access, and multi language support all wrapped into one online interface. even if we start comparing individual tools with other comtemporaries like a Zoho writer with writely, Zoho writer still scores high in features such as support for importing documents by email, a finer document search, template support and more.
- from India 2.0 Part 6 by Rajiv Dingra at WATblog

Zoho is at best, Office Lite, giving you only the basic features of a full-blown desktop productivity suite. For a lot of people who are on a tight budget, however, that may be enough. And certainly, if you’re on the road without your laptop, Zoho is a good way to bring your work with you, anywhere you’ve got an Internet connection. Like in an Internet café in Olongapo City, where the mardi gras beckons.
- Online office suite by Chin Wong

Google has merged its separate Writely and spreadsheets web applications into Google Docs & Spreadsheets. The new service will further Google’s strength as an online office suite, currently competing with Zoho.
- Google Releases “Docs & Spreadsheets” by Paul Stamatiou

For those that haven’t experienced the products that Zoho offers then I think you will find some of them to be quite amazing compared to their competitors like Google.
- Google And Zoho Each Create “Office Suite” by Ryan

Zoho’s products have been widely reviewed. Techcrunch, perhaps the most widely read web 2.0 blog, has reviewed it several times. Zoho Virtual Office, which is what was announced, is a bundle of existing Zoho products with a single sign-on. As you can see from the reviews, Zoho is generally considered one of the top contenders in the online office productivity race. The competition is tough and the market is crowded (at one time I counted 13 online spreadsheet offerings). And not just with startups. Zoho is challenging the hegemony of Microsoft Office that dominates this space. And let’s not forget Google which has perhaps the best tech talent in the world today and knows what is at stake here. So this is David versus two Goliaths. So far David’s holding his own.

I have tried a couple of Zoho products. The spreadsheet works well and will probably work for most people who don’t do complex things with Excel, like pivot tables. I also tried out their CRM product, and will be doing a more detailed evaluation of how it fits our needs at Gridstone. Currently we use SugarCRM. Zoho’s functionality seems richer at first glance. The one peeve I have with Zoho is that they give very little information, even where information can help them sell.
- Indian startups making a mark by Basab Pradhan

Zoho is innovating even faster. They have launched a complete suite of online Office applications that are more sophisticated and feature-rich that competing Google products. And Zoho Office suite includes tools for presentation, project management and a visual database, which are still missing in Google Office.
- Who Will Win The Online Office Race ? Google, Zoho or Microsoft by Amit Agarwal

Spin doctors on sales teams are out, and authentic communication is in. This is why many companies do not have a sales button on their web site, but they do have a blog. The blog is a way of getting out information in an authentic, efficient way, which is the best path to acceptance.
- The sales pitch is dead. Here’s a new way to sell by Penelope Trunk

A company called Zoho has an application with the product name “Virtual Office”, but is naming its new online version “ZohoX”. That’s pretty unimaginative, actually, compared to the names of their other productivity applications: Show (think PowerPoint), Sheet (Excel) and Writer (Word).
- Product Naming: Anything to Avoid “Office” by William Lozito

If the Web 2.0 office suite and the Office 2.0 movement actually take root (propelled, in part, by Google’s efforts), Zoho could become an appealing target.
- Web M&A: Who’s Next? by Mark Evans

… the Zoho suite of online productivity apps now only needs on[e] sign-in per application. Before, if I used Writer, and then needed to go into Sheet, I would have to log in twice. No more. Good stuff.
- Google Docs, and Zoho by David Briggs

At the basic level, Writely is basically a uniquely interfaced AJAX editor that writes HTML documents on the fly. Although it is easy to use, it lacks many of the features already integrated into its competitors. Specifically, check out Zohowriter, a solid WP with the ability to interface any number of blogging systems.
- Blogging Interfaces by Tim

What are your thoughts on Zoho?

Featured Zoho User – Craig Cmehil

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We had Barry Dahl as the featured Zoho user earlier. Continuing the series, we have today, Craig Cmehil. Craig is a Community Evangelist at SAP and involved in the SAP developer network (SDN). Craig is so fond of Zoho that he mentions us atleast once every couple of days in his blog! Visit his blog and scrolling down, see the ‘Categories’ in the right panel. You will see around 40 posts tagged Zoho! His latest post mentions him along with his friends using Zoho Planner to plan his trips.

Craig Cmehil, flanked by Sridhar Vembu & Raju Vegesna at the Office 2.0 Conference

Zoho is part of Craig’s everyday activities. Craig is so into Zoho Creator that he created (perfected actually, after 3 tries) his own roadmap for Zoho. One of upcoming SAP’s developer network conferences is happening at Bangalore and Craig is asking for presentation invites. And of course, he’s doing that on a form hosted by Zoho Creator. He also has a book library, a contact list and according to an email from him, a “10 min” app which he has been using multiple times a day.

Craig says he’s using Zoho Sheet to track his finances. He had used Zoho Show for an SDN presentation at a SAP conference. And he has his resume hosted on Zoho Writer.

If you are a Zoho user like Craig or Barry, please do write to us (you can mail me at aravind(at)zoho.com) about how you are using Zoho.

“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.