Going to the online office

It was pointed out to me recently by a chirping reader that I had been devoting a lot of attention to image and photography-related to topics in the last little while.

In the interests of providing broad-based coverage, this week I’ve got news of a rather spiffy online service called Zoho. It’s a suite of online applications that you can use, either as an individual, or as part of a business, and is similar in many ways, to other offerings such as Google Apps.

I went along to www.zoho.com to see what it was all about, and the first surprise came when it didn’t insist that I create an account for myself, but let me sign on using my Google account. It will also let Yahoo account holders sign on, and get to work right away.

Whether you create a new account, or sign in with an existing one, you will end up at your personal page where you will be able to access all of the online applications that are available. These include e-mail, a wordprocessing package, a spreadsheet package, a presentation program, a calendar, a notebook, and a task list.

For the business user, there is a customer relationship management, or CRM, program, an online meeting program, an invoicing program, and even a program which can be used for vetting applicants for a job.

Zoho has an astonishing range of programs and add-ons that the individual can use for free, and you get 1GB of free storage space to play with. For business use, the price is not high for access to most of the applications, with 20 users plus 50 GB of online storage costing $50 a month, and 200 GB of space for only $30 more per month.

There are additional charges for the use of the more heavyweight programs, such as the CRM, database and project management package, for business purpose. Even these charges are not high and compare very favourably with the cost of buying an office suite and additional softwarevfor all your users.

I found that it is easy to navigate your way around the available applications which are listed on the left-hand side of the screen. One of the most useful that I found was that desktop, or dashboard, which displays your new messages, a list of documents, your outstanding tasks, and your calendar, all in one easy-to-view screen.

I didn’t have the time to try out all the applications in the Zoho stable but I did take Zoho Writer out for a spin, and found it to be a very capable word processor. It has all the usual features including tables, bullets, indenting, and all the rest of it. There is a reasonable choice of fonts included with it, and it looks very easy to store documents, and find them later.

My conclusions should not be seen as definitive at this stage, but it does look as thoughZoho would be a viable tool for private single users and groups in business. On the plus side, it does seem very capable and complete and it has the benefit of being free for individuals, and reasonably priced for business.

It is hosted on the Internet, which has the plus that your data is stored well away from any disasters which might overtake your PC or network in the home or office, but there is the negative that we’re in South Africa. Whether our Internet connections are reliable and cheap enough for a business to use Zoho for all its day-to-day computing needs, is a matter only the business can decide.

The other slight negative is that Zoho’s help feature and explanatory text is not quite as clear as it might be. I occasionally found it difficult to find the information I was looking for and there were a couple of things referred to in the help, that I still couldn’t see how to do. It is also clear that some of it has been done by persons whose first language is not English.

This slight drawback will probably be compensated for by the support forums which you can use to get answers. Many other Web services have forums where you find that questions go unanswered but, with Zoho, I can’t say that I found any questions which were not answered and resolved to the satisfaction of the user.

At the moment, I am not that tempted to move all my e-mail and few online documents over to Zoho from Google, if only because you get more free storage space with the Google Gmail offering. On the other hand, if I were running a business and decided that hosting my software and data on the Internet was viable, I would give Zoho a very close look.

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3 thoughts on “Going to the online office

  1. Allan : Thanks for introducing your readers to Zoho!

    Regarding the negatives you pointed out, all of Zoho is being actively developed from Chennai, India. And as you rightly guessed, English isn't our first language. We are very open to native English speakers pointing out a spelling error here or a grammar mistake there and make it a point that it gets corrected as soon as possible.

    Hope South Africa gets reliable and cheap internet connection as we do now in India and elsewhere in Asia. That will make more African business users tap on to the productivity & business apps being available on the web now at a far cheaper rate than their counterparts from the previous era.

  2. Hi Arvind.
    It was a pleasure using Zoho and I'm sure that the service you guys provide will more than make up for any language difficulties. I'd welcome it if you put me on the list to let me know about new developments.

    I ran out of space in the print version of my article but I would have said that the one thing I would have liked is a page where all the 'About Zoho' information is collected. I had to hunt around quite a bit to find pricing info and e-mail and storage space limits. The other area where info seemed lacking was the matter of domains and whether clients can access the service under their own domain name, and how that would integrate with the company's web presence.

  3. Hi Allan,

    Thanks for the reply. Sure I'll mail you the latest developments happening at Zoho.

    With much of the Zoho services being under active development, we are still setting the website pages right. This page – http://www.zoho.com/pricing.html – can give you pricing structure for different services. We'll make this easier still.

    Indeed you can map your own domain or even buy a domain from our partner, GoDaddy. Zoho Mail/Business allow @yourdomain.com email and Zoho Wiki helps you have a wiki website redirecting to your domain. I'll mail you the specifics.


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