Is Zoho a NoGo or SoSo for the Channel?

By Frank Ohlhorst  |  Print this article Print


Desktop-as-a-Service Designed for Any Cloud ? Nutanix Frame

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.

Frank Ohlhorst Frank J. Ohlhorst is the Executive Technology Editor for eWeek Channel Insider and brings with him over 20 years of experience in the Information Technology field.He began his career as a network administrator and applications program in the private sector for two years before joining a computer consulting firm as a programmer analyst. In 1988 Frank founded a computer consulting company, which specialized in network design, implementation, and support, along with custom accounting applications developed in a variety of programming languages.In 1991, Frank took a position with the United States Department of Energy as a Network Manager for multiple DOE Area Offices with locations at Brookhaven National Laboratory (BNL), Princeton Plasma Physics Laboratory (PPL), Argonne National Laboratory (ANL), FermiLAB and the Ames Area Office (AMESAO). Frank's duties included managing the site networks, associated staff and the inter-network links between the area offices. He also served at the Computer Security Officer (CSO) for multiple DOE sites. Frank joined CMP Technology's Channel group in 1999 as a Technical Editor assigned to the CRN Test Center, within a year, Frank became the Senior Technical Editor, and was responsible for designing product testing methodologies, assigning product reviews, roundups and bakeoffs to the CRN Test Center staff.In 2003, Frank was named Technology Editor of CRN. In that capacity, he ensured that CRN maintained a clearer focus on technology and increased the integration of the Test Center's review content into both CRN's print and web properties. He also contributed to Netseminar's, hosted sessions at CMP's Xchange Channel trade shows and helped to develop new methods of content delivery, Such as CRN-TV.In September of 2004, Frank became the Director of the CRN Test Center and was charged with increasing the Test Center's contributions to CMP's Channel Web online presence and CMP's latest monthly publication, Digital Connect, a magazine geared towards the home integrator. He also continued to contribute to CMP's Netseminar series, Xchange events, industry conferences and CRN-TV.In January of 2007, CMP Launched CRNtech, a monthly publication focused on technology for the channel, with a mailed audience of 70,000 qualified readers. Frank was instrumental in the development and design of CRNTech and was the editorial director of the publication as well as its primary contributor. He also maintained the edit calendar, and hosted quarterly CRNTech Live events.In June 2007, Frank was named Senior Technology Analyst and became responsible for the technical focus and edit calendars of all the Channel Group's publications, including CRN, CRNTech, and VARBusiness, along with the Channel Group's specialized publications Solutions Inc., Government VAR, TechBuilder and various custom publications. Frank joined Ziff Davis Enterprise in September of 2007 and focuses on creating editorial content geared towards the purveyors of Information Technology products and services. Frank writes comparative reviews, channel analysis pieces and participates in many of Ziff Davis Enterprise's tradeshows and webinars. He has received several awards for his writing and editing, including back to back best review of the year awards, and a president's award for CRN-TV. Frank speaks at many industry conferences, is a contributor to several IT Books, holds several records for online hits and has several industry certifications, including Novell's CNE, Microsoft's MCP.Frank can be reached at frank.ohlhorst@ziffdavisenterprise.com

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