A small company has quietly been making inroads into Web-based productivity applications that it hopes will offer alternatives to commercial office software tools from Microsoft. Its products include a word processor, a spreadsheet, a presentation tool, a Wiki, a project manager, a database, and more—and most of them are free. Zoho (www.zoho.com) aims its applications at the SOHO market—small office, home office users. Zoho’s mission is to create "the most comprehensive suite of affordable, online productivity tools for today’s knowledge workers." The company said that nearly 120 developers work on the Zoho suite, often implementing new features just days after customers request them and responding to customer queries within minutes of their posting. To date, Zoho has launched 15 different applications, and more are in the works.
Applications that run on the Internet rather than your hard drive are part of a new trend termed "cloud computing." You’re in the network cloud and can access your files from anywhere if you have an Internet connection and a Web browser.
The basic office suite consists of the following:
- Zoho Writer—online word processor
- Zoho Sheet—online spreadsheet
- Zoho Show—online presentation
Zoho Writer launched in September 2005, followed closely by Zoho Planner. The company has just introduced offline editing capabilities for Zoho Writer. "Just like the pagination and header/footer support for Zoho Writer, which we announced a few days ago, offline read/write support is important to many of our customers," said Raju Vegesna, Zoho evangelist. "People want to take their online documents offline, and we’re going to make that experience as smooth and simple as possible. Going forward, we’ll be extending offline read/write functionality to our other applications." Oddly enough, though Zoho competes with Google in offering online applications, users need to install Google Gears, the browser plug-in to work offline. Versions are synched up when users go back online.
By the way, you don’t need to worry about compatibility. You can export the documents from within Zoho Writer in the following formats: Microsoft Word, OpenOffice (SWX), PDF, Open Document Text (ODT), RTF, Text File, and HTML. It does not currently support importing PDFs. (Some folks might worry, however, about the basic premise of storing documents "out there" on the Internet.)
Zoho Meeting is an online meeting service to show/share your desktop online, conduct Web meetings, troubleshoot, and provide remote assistance to your customers. With Zoho Meeting, you can host live Web conferences and chat with all participants. With Zoho Meeting, you can embed a meeting inside Zoho Show, Zoho Notebook, or any public Web page.
Other Zoho services include the following:
- Zoho Creator—on-demand Web application creation service
- Zoho CRM—on-demand customer relationship management
- Zoho Chat—group chat made simple
- Zoho Notebook—online note taker
- Zoho Planner—online organizer
- Zoho Projects—online project management
- Zoho DB & Reports—online database and reporting functions (in beta)
- Zoho Single Sign-On—log in to multiple Zoho services (about six at this point—more to follow).
There are also a couple of interesting utilities, such as Zoho Polls for creating your own online polls, Zoho Challenge for conducting online tests, and Site24x7, a hosted Web site-monitoring service.
Most of the Zoho tools are free for individuals. Zoho Projects lets you manage a single project for free; three projects cost just $5 per month; unlimited project management with 25GB storage costs $80 per month. Zoho CRM offers affordable on-demand customer relationship management for three users free; additional users cost $12 per user per month. The reviews of the CRM product are actually quite amazing.
This fall, Zoho announced it would be categorizing its applications into personal and business use. At this point, Zoho Business is still in private beta, but it is expected to be available early in 2008. There will be two versions, free and pro; the pricing is expected to be around $40 per year per user. It will offer small and medium-sized businesses multiple levels of security, support, remote backup, and an administration console.
Zoho is a division of AdvantNet, Inc., a maker of software for a variety of enterprise IT and telecom management needs. Founded in 1996, the privately held company is based in Pleasanton, Calif.
Gary Price of ResourceShelf says he likes Zoho’s applications. "They’re extremely easy to use, and you can even test each one before you register with a demo account." I’ve mushed around a bit with these tools, but as soon as I get some extra time (yeah, right …) I plan to test some of them seriously—especially that meeting tool. If anyone has experience with these and has comments to share, please drop me an email.