Harry McCracken at Slate.com reviews Zoho

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Harry McCracken has a review of Zoho at Slate.com. In an article titled “The Best Way To Do Work Online, A Web-based office suite that bests Google and Microsoft“, Harry concludes that ‘if anyone needs a full-fledged online office suite right this very minute, it is Zoho‘. From his article :

Zoho is, like Google Apps, a Web-based productivity suite. The biggest difference between them will be obvious the first time you visit the Zoho home page. Unlike Apps and most other would-be Office killers, the Zoho suite has all of the applications you expect: a word processor, a spreadsheet program, a presentation package, e-mail, and a calendar. There are also Zoho modules for databases and managing projects. And there are even tools with no counterpart in Microsoft Office, such as one for building wikis.

While they don’t replicate every function of their Microsoftian counterparts, Zoho’s programs are highly evolved by online standards. Zoho Writer, for instance, handles basic graphics and lists with aplomb, incorporates tools for Web-page design and blogging, and offers multiple levels of undo. Like many of the best Web applications, it makes collaboration painless, letting you share documents selectively or post them on the Web with a few clicks. And while the Zoho applications are inaccessible when you’re offline, plug-ins for Word and Excel let you save and open documents from your online Zoho file repository. That means it’s a snap to use Zoho when you’ve got a Net connection and Office when you don’t.

Thanks to Harry and Slate!

Site 24×7 steps out of Beta

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Another Zoho application steps out of beta (previous apps are CRM & Projects)…and this time it is Site 24×7. I mentioned about this service earlier which is used to monitor your websites and applications.

We are also announcing the pricing for this service. Of course, there is always a free version which lets you monitor up to 2 websites. But if you need more functionality, you can always move to our professional version and the pricing starts @ $0.5/month. More information on pricing is here.

Here is a list of features. Please do give it a try and let us know what you think.

Zoho partners with EchoSign & more

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We are glad to announce a partnership with EchoSign. We will be integrating our applications wherever it makes sense. First integration point is Zoho Writer.

Zoho Writer’s latest update has EchoSign integrated. You can now draft your contracts, NDAs, sales proposals etc in Zoho Writer and send it for your business partners’ approval/digital signing with EchoSign. With a complete workflow becoming digital, it makes things easier. Special thanks to Ismael Ghalimi for pointing us in this direction. Please do let us know how you use this feature.

Recently, we also announced partnerships with OmniDrive, Box.net & Flixn too.

Today’s Zoho Writer update also includes other enhancements. Special thanks to Zoli, this update also has a couple of things as regards blogging. You can now post to your blog as draft from Zoho Writer. And if your blog is a metaWeblog supported one, all your categories get listed in Zoho Writer. You can check the categories for which the blog is to be posted to (previously, you would have to enter the categories manually each time)

Try the new features in Zoho Writer. Your feedback will be much appreciated.

Bloggers on Zoho Writer

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A couple of recent blog posts from the blogosphere featuring Zoho Writer caught our eye. The first blog post by Joe has 8 nice tips for using Zoho Writer. Sample this :

Modifying Tables – After adding a table to your document, Writer makes it very easy to add additional rows and columns to your table. This is something that I always have trouble teaching others to do. With Zoho Writer, it is just a matter of a click or two and you have made your changes. By clicking on the row or column where you would like to add additional items, you are presented with a right and left or up and down arrow as well as an x. The right and left arrows add a column and the up and down adds a new row. The x will delete the column or row.

And the second one by Andy Merrill compares the various online word processors. Andy writes about Zoho Writer :

To start with it has a very nice interface. They have a couple rows of buttons and drop down options across the top toolbar. Along the left side bar is a listing of my documents . There are options for templates, sharing docs, publishing to blogs, and exporting. They allow you to customize the interface to look how you prefer it. All of these additional options are nice, but what really makes this my preferred online word processor is the simplicity of all of. There are tons of options, but they don’t hit you over the head with all of them (couge*google*cough). The options are there if you need them, but it still has a clean streamlined interface. The more I use Zoho Writer the more I find things I like about it. For example, a lot of the standard Word keyboard shortcuts work. Without even thinking about it I just ctrl+S to save and it saved my document. It has contextual options that show up on the right side of the toolbar depending on what you have highlighted. The whole thing is very well designed and laid out. Documents open in tabs and it is a very quick to respond to commands like saving or creating a new document. In my experience it is faster to load and respond to my commands than the other online word processors. Zoho Writer is in Beta still, but I was looking through their forums and they have a very active team working on peoples questions and issues there.

And he concludes :

Google Docs will probably ultimately become the standard online word processor because they are a heavyweight in the industry, but they really could use the help of a good designer. Even though I’m a Gmail user their interface takes too much effort to use. It is because of the interface that I will be doing my writing with Zoho Writer. It is very well laid out and runs very smoothly. The only issue I ran into with Zoho Writer is that you can’t make folders for grouping documents (or if you can I can’t figure out how to do it). However, it is still in Beta so I sent in a request for this to be added. Still, Zoho Writer is the best choice for what I need.

Thanks, Joe and Andy! About Andy’s request for folders, Zoho Writer has a novel way of using “tags as folders“. May be Zoho Writer will add the ‘conventional’ folders concept in future.

Update : Found a third post by Larry Hendrick just now. Larry writes, “It [Zoho Writer] doesn’t feel like a web-based program. It is much better than everything else I have tried“. More at his post, “10 Reasons to Like Zoho Writer (and more)“.

Zoho Projects : Export your project data as csv/xls and more

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The latest Zoho Projects update brings in a couple of very useful features. We have been getting feedback of how useful it would be for our users to regularly backup their data. So, here it is – you can now export your ‘Tasks & Milestones’ and ‘Timesheets’ data in xls and csv formats whenever you want. Just click on the ‘Export’ button available in the ‘Tasks & Milestones’/’Timesheet’ tabs and you can save your data offline.

Zoho Projects offers a variety of plans and each plan has a specified amount of disk space allotted to it. You can now see how much of the allotted disk space you have used with the following options – in total, by user and by folder. This will allow you to effectively use the disk space available.

The above features as a Zoho Show slide show below.

If you closely watch the slides, you will also notice that the tasks now have various color codes depending upon priority.

Tell us what you think of this Zoho Projects update and what more features you would like to have in Zoho Projects.

An Update on Performance Updates

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Our focus on Zoho performance initiative so far has been reducing the initial loading time of our applications. That has gone really well: Zoho Show, Planner and Projects all load really fast, while Writer, Sheet & Wiki are reasonable, with some additional optimizations going on. CRM has focused on other database related optimizations, so the initial loading operation hasn’t been completed yet. Creator is in a class of its own, as far as performance tuning is concerned, because it is a development environment with a lot of dynamic/evolving set of applications; while it has gotten faster than before, much work remains to be done. Be assured we are on the job and won’t rest until we get this right – as a company dependent on Zoho applications ourselves, we realize how important performance is in every day use. No user should think about Zoho while using our applications, just simply focus on their own work, which is the indication we have achieved our goal.

As a next step in the performance initiative, we are now working on optimizing every user operation, every mouse click. This is particularly important for transaction oriented applications like CRM and Projects, as opposed to document oriented applications like Writer. A lot of database tuning is necessary, which has become a strong focus for us. CRM performance is better than a month ago, but one problem that remains is the occasional inconsistency in performance. We have also seen CRM being slow in Australia, which we are investigating. It seems much faster in India than in Australia (our data centers are in California), even though the overall bandwidth situation in India is very spotty. This is a situation we are taking up with our service provider, because simultaneous tests in India and Australia yield very different results.

In related news, we have received our next round of hardware, much more powerful than what we have now (it is a pleasure to buy servers, because each time  you are amazed at how much more can be had for how much less!). These servers are going through a full round of testing and qualification, before being pressed into service, which we expect by the end of March. So stay tuned for even more performance improvements.