Is Zoho a NoGo or SoSo for the Channel?By Frank Ohlhorst | Posted 2007-11-05 Email Print
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Zoho is offering a suite of applications for end users and is starting to engage the channel with a basic program, will this amount to anything?
For the mobile worker, the ability to get your information from anywhere at any time is at the top of the list of "must haves."
Currently, most users have come to rely on dedicated notebook computers or clunky remote access solutions to meet their traveling needs. But, both technologies have their downsides remote access needs connectivity and dedicated notebook computers are subject to theft, damage or loss (along with all that important data).
While Zoho started out as a hosted alternative to the basic office suite (namely Microsoft Word and Excel), the product line still had an "all or nothing approach". In other words, you needed to have access to the internet and an approved Web browser to access your documents and do your work, which is arguably not much of a challenge in today's connected world.
But, what happens when you don't have access (think about on an airliner)? Here you are, armed with your PC and yet you lack your office suite! That has always been one of the big drawbacks with hosted applications.
Well, ZoHo may very well have an option for that problem: a plug-in for Microsoft Office. The plug-in allows users to save documents and spreadsheets both to ZoHo's site and to the local drive.
In theory, that may look like an ideal solution to the problem, but the fact of the matter is the plug-in offers only basic functionality. While the company should be commended for making an attempt to allow both local and remote saves, one has to wonder why there is no support for Microsoft's new file format (DOCX) that is used natively by Word 2007. Also, the plug-in lacks any type of a synchronization feature, as users have to save a document locally (in a compatible format), and then manually save it to Zoho by clicking on the Add-Ins sub-menu in Word before selecting save under Zoho writer.
The functionality works much the same in Excel and ZoHo Sheet. At best, the Zoho plug-in is little more than a hack to ease access to ZoHo's services, and, at worst, the Add-In becomes a versioning and synchronization nightmare. What does all this have to do with the channel? Well, here we have a company that is trying to offer a SAAS (software as a service) solution to users, that currently is free.
For the company to attract channel partners, two things need to happen. One, it must develop a method to compensate VARs for promoting the service, and two, it must make the product worth the effort of integration.
For the first element, the company will either need to start billing for advanced features or derive revenue from advertising and compensate resellers accordingly. For the second issue, the company needs to add synchronization and better control of the document files. Users should be able to jump from local (Word) to remote (Zoho Writer) with little effort. What's more, the company needs to develop the plug-in to work with other office suites, such as Open Office and IBM's Lotus Symphony suite, if Zoho is to be truly considered an alternative to Microsoft Office.