Can Zoho Survive against the Giants?

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Recently, two bloggers we respect asked much the same question. First it was Pandurang Nayak asking Zoho in the Web 2.0 revolution: Creativity, yes! Business, where? and then Robert Scoble asked Online wordprocessor updated, but does it have a chance at survival?

First of all, thanks for asking, guys! We at AdventNet (the company behind Zoho services) are delighted to get noticed. We have been toiling away for 10 years now, building a profitable business. We actually predate a lot of the famous internet names, though whether that is something I should be proud of as CEO is debatable :-) At least we have the excuse that we never took any venture capital, mostly because at that time in the mid 90’s it wasn’t so easy to get for us hard-core engineers with no business experience whatsoever, focused on some “boring niche markets”, as one VC helpfully commented in 97.

There, I said it. “Boring niche markets” are how we can survive and endure. Remember that even with the absolute domination of Microsoft in the PC industry, companies ranging from Borland to Novell, in direct cross-hairs of Microsoft, endured. Online productivity applications have many specialized markets where we can play, ranging from education to legal services to journalism [as some commenters on Scoble’s post point out]. And we fully intend to keep a respectably-featured free edition, even as the Zoho services emerge from beta, as we currently do in almost all other AdventNet products. As an example, ZohoCRM offers a 3-user free edition.

And as a quick glance at the AdventNet site will tell you, we have a pretty good track record serving such smaller markets profitably, providing affordably priced products with good customer service. So it is not all or nothing in business. Smaller players continue to thrive in many different industries long after giants have “conquered” the broader markets. Our own 10 year history is proof.

As a company, we are pretty conservative financially – we don’t spend money we don’t have. That has kept us going in some good times and bad, and I believe that will keep us going for a while yet. That financial prudence is the real guarantee for users who depend on our products that we will be around to serve them.

Natural Language Addressing in Formulas

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Did you know that Zoho Sheet can recogonize and correlate names used in formulas with cells / cell ranges automatically? You have to just give the row / column header of a table as arguments to functions and Zoho Sheet will auto-recogonize the cell range associated with the name. It is very convenient to quickly type in the formulas with these names instead of worrying about keying in the proper cell range.

Consider the following sheet available at

Look at the formulas in the cells F5:F7 and C9:E9. The formula =SUM(USA) will automatically add the cell values in the row with the header “USA”. Earlier you had to use =SUM(C5:E5). Now the row header can directly be used. You do not even need to name / label the cell ranges. If the row / column header has a space in between, then you can use single quotes in formulas. For example: =SUM(‘United States of America’). Please note that special characters like a single quote in a row / column header needs to be escaped using a back slash – \. For example: =SUM(‘Bob\’s Expenses’)

You can even copy and paste these formulas to adjacent rows or columns and they will automatically be adjusted relatively. In this case, copying the F5 cell and pasting it to F6, will result in the formula =SUM(EMEA) in F6.

We hope it considerably eases typing in of formulas. As always, kindly try it out and send us your feedback and suggestions to support (at) zohosheet (dot) com.

Zoho Teacher

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No, we haven’t released another product, nor do we promise a weekly product release. ;) While tracking back the blogs that mentioned Zoho, we came to know that there were a good number of teachers who use Zoho for various class-room related activities. Alan, a Zoho user compiled a post on how he uses Zoho tools for teaching or other tasks. As an addendum to that post, here are a few more ways in which teachers can use Zoho effectively as educational tools:

(1) Zoho Creator with its form-building capacities can be used to survey, or gather comments from people. A form can be embedded in your blog or you can provide a URL to the form. Here’s a sample.

(2) Zoho Planner can be used to plan lessons over a period of time, provide homework- reminders, assign a to-do list for students. You can then share it by e-mail or publish it as a public page.

(3) Zoho Chat can be used to encourage conversations and discussions.

(4) And with our recent Zoho Writer update, more than two students can simultaneously work on a homework or a project report. Or a teacher can work alongside the students and guide them. All this online! 

Coming soon: Team-Planner which will be an extension of Zoho Planner for teams working on projects. Stay tuned!

Zoho Writer – Major update

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As regular users of Zoho Writer might have known, it was under scheduled maintenance earlier today. We did a major update that fixed some bugs & improved the performance while adding some very interesting features too.

Zoho Writer as an online word processor, has been missing this most important feature of all. Yes, I’m talking about real time collaborative editing & here it is! Multiple persons can now work on a Zoho Writer document at the same time (before, the document got locked & only a single person was allowed to edit).

Assume that you have shared a document with a friend with ‘Read & Write’ privileges. You can both work now on the same document at the same time. Only the particular ‘block’ (typically it is a paragraph) that you are working on is locked & your friend who you have shared the document with cannot edit this particular block. The same’s applicable for the block being edited by your friend too. The changes being done by both of you to your respective blocks are reflected near real time. An added advantage is that one of you can lock the document if you think that will allow you to make the changes undisturbed (this can be done if you are the only one editing the document). Though I have used two editors as an example, more than two people can edit too. Try this new experience of constrained collaborative editing with Zoho Writer & let us know what you think.

A picture’s worth 1000 words. I believe the below screenshots will live up to the saying & convey how collaborative editing’s done with Zoho Writer.

Another much asked for functionality regarding the sharing mode is to have the flexibility of changing the body of the sharing mail that is sent by Zoho Writer. Ismael Ghalimi, among others felt that sharing mails from Zoho Writer can get ignored if the person receiving the sharing mail is not aware of Zoho Writer or what the mail is being sent for. This issue has been addressed as you can now write a customized message in the mail that is being sent. (we will explore about trying to give the ‘From’ email ID as yours, Ismael :-))

The document management system in Zoho Writer gets a much needed boost too. You can now sort your documents – by document name, created time or the last modified time.

Another feature is the introduction of a separate tab for the documents that you made public. This allows for quick & easy reference.

That’s not all. There was one cute little thing that missed this update & I think that one will most probably be available in an update the coming week. Stay tuned :-)

Search Based Navigation

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Zoho Writer has a search box on top which you may have noticed. If you type in a keyword and hit the “Search Feature” button, it allows you to reach the feature you need faster. The way it works is each menu/dialog/screen is tagged with keywords. We will soon provide the ability to tag it yourself, so in effect the search box becomes a customizable command line for the application. If you have not already, check it out some time. Help us improve it!

Some Stability Issues with ZohoSheet

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We are experiencing some stability issues at high load in Zoho Sheet, particularly when Excel documents are imported. Most of the time you would not experience any problem, but when an occasional load spike happens, you may experience glitches, which include garbled data. We are working hard to fix these problems, and enhance system capacity by adding more servers.

We do not intend to keep the beta tag indefinitely, but at the moment, the service is very much beta. So please forgive us for the glitches.

Other Zoho services are not impacted.

Update (2:15 pm, July 5): We just made an update that should fix the immediate issues. We would also be adding more servers to the cluster to handle increasing load.

“I use Zoho Creator”

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We folks would love to hear this more than anything else from users. There’s a priceless level of satisfaction that comes to a developer when a feature( he developed) is being used to a great effect and to a user interface designer when his designs are liked best. Ah…could not ask for more!

I am not posting a good-feeling testimonial of Zoho Creator, but just wanted to hint you on how we are banking on – ‘THE USERS’ to spread the word of Zoho Creator. Truly as Andrew is surprised Zoho Creator hasn’t really been talked about much by the bloggers so far, barring few. But to our delight, rate of applications created each day and the kind of comments we receive through our support is just overwhelming.

Needless to say, to get to this level we didn’t have any fan-fare beta launch, nor any road shows and not even iPod give aways, instead we kept on adding features demanded by users (it continues till now) and help them carefully when they are struck while using the service.

So to make way for the happy users to spread the word, we have displayed “I use Zoho Creator” logo at the bottom of the Form and View. You can see this logo only when you embed Form and View in your website/blog.

Introducing a good useful thing to a close friend is worth than getting free goodies. Agree? So, would you mind spreading the word?