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Sandy Kemsley

Enterprise 2.0: Zoho

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This entry cross-posted to my new blog location.

I had a chance for a one-on-one chat and demo with Raju Vegesna, Zoho's evangelist, while at Enterprise 2.0 this week; since I do face-to-face interviews with a paper notebook, however, it's taken me until the flight home from Boston to find time to transcribe my notes.

I've played around with Zoho, Google Apps and a few other Office 2.0 applications, but find it hard to find the compelling argument for me to start using them: I'm often in places with flaky, expensive or non-existent wifi, and it just doesn't make sense to have my productivity impacted by the inability to connect to the internet. Case in point, I'm at 35,000' right now, writing this blog post in Windows Live Writer, not in the Movable Type online environment where the blog is actually domiciled.

A few new releases in Zoho, however, have me willing to try it out: Zoho Wiki and Zoho Meeting. I've used another free hosted wiki, PBwiki, but they've only just introduced WYSIWYG editing and it still feels a bit kludgy; I could use MediaWiki on my own hosting platform, but they don't have WYSIWYG editing at all, and I think that's a major barrier to adoption. So seeing Zoho Wiki, which uses Zoho Writer (the word processor) as the text editor, makes me want to give that a try instead. It also has some nice capabilities for direct integration with some of the other Zoho tools that I want to test out.

The big news this week is Zoho Meeting, and that's what Raju and I spent most of our time on. Currently free, although I'm expecting some sort of monetization model in the future, this is an online meeting and desktop sharing application, like Webex. It requires the meeting host to used a downloaded Windows application, but the attendees can either use a (Windows-only) ActiveX control, or a Java or Flash plug-in on other operating systems. There's a high degree of integration with other applications: you can launch a Zoho meeting from a Skype chat, or embed it into a page of a presentation on Zoho Show if you only need to hop into full desktop sharing mode for part of a presentation. The meeting session is downloadable afterwards as a Flash file for replay, and can be used to generate a discussion forum thread with the meeting archive linked in. And, like Webex and other desktop sharing applications, it can also be used for remote control of a Windows PC: you leave the host running on the computer to be controlled (say, your home computer), then enter the meeting from another computer and (presumabely password protected) take control of the host computer.

I also saw Zoho Notebook, a free-form authoring application similar to Microsoft OneNote (but hosted), where you can add pages in a sort of binder/notebook paradigm, then put any type of content on the pages. There's version control on the objects, and read-only and read/write security can be applied at the paragraph level for sharing.

Zoho Creator was interesting, too: a forms-based database application development environment, similar to a number of others ones that I've seen like DabbleDB. You create an application by drawing the associate user interface form, which in turn generates the database required for the fields on the form. You can edit the script behind each form object to change the default behaviours and add more functionality. The data can be viewed in the form or in a table view. Multiple database tables with joins are supported, and data can be imported and exported from the tables.

There's also a QuickRead browser plug-in for IE or Firefox that acts as a viewer for many different office document types, insteach of having to launch the behemoth MS-Office application just to view a document that's linked on a website. The browsers handle a lot of the document types natively, but QuickRead seems to handle many more that aren't supported by the browsers themselves.

Also in the category of fun things to do with MS-Office documents, there's a WebDAV sort of plug-in for MS-Office applications to allow the documents authored in those environments to be replicated online, which provides an easy transition path for Office users who want to get started on Zoho.

The last thing that we looked at was Zoho Mail; I'm not sure that Raju intended to show me that, but I saw it on his screen when he was getting set up for the demo, and it piqued my interest. It's still in closed beta with 20-30,000 users, getting ready for general release in a couple of months. By providing some really slick interlinking of content types between Mail and the other Zoho applications, and a much more MS-Outlook style of interface (including the ability to see all attachments to all messages as a sort of document store), they're looking to add value over what Google Mail provides. I suppose if you can't be bought by them, then you have to try and beat them.

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