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July 5, 2007

Zoho vs Google Docs



While Google still works on completing its online office suite by adding a presentation app and integrating JotSpot, an Indian company called AdventNet already has one and it includes everything from word processing, spreadsheets, presentations, notebooks to wikis, online databases, project management. It's called Zoho and it keeps getting better every day.


Zoho opted for a more familiar look, so most of their products are inspired from Microsoft Office. Unlike Google Docs & Spreadsheets that has a start page which lists all your files, Zoho uses a sidebar that shows the files created using the active application. Zoho's word processor has a tabbed interface, so you never have to leave the current page to switch to a new document. While many options work like in Google Docs, Zoho pushes the boundaries and lets you save templates and even share them in a public template library. It's also able to import bigger files than Google Docs: I managed to upload a 2.8 MB document and I couldn't find a precise number for the maximum size of a document. Unfortunately, the application is barely responsive when you edit a big document.

Zoho Writer lets you publicize a document, post it to a blog or collaborate with your contacts. But collaboration is Zoho Writer's weakest point because it doesn't happen in real-time and you don't see the changes made by your collaborators unless you refresh the page and that's not very cool.


The integration between Zoho's apps is not very visible, so if you want to switch from Zoho Writer to Zoho Sheet, you'll have to type the URL in the address bar or use your bookmarks. Zoho Sheet doesn't have tabs, but it's much buggier than Zoho Writer. A simple spreadsheet that loaded just fine in Google Spreadsheets managed to make my browser completely unresponsive for minutes. I particularly like the way they handled formulas and how easy is to add new functions from the list. In Zoho Sheet, the collaboration is in real-time, but Zoho has a strange of handling conflicts that manages to produce different spreadsheets for each collaborator. And some of the copies are really broken.

The funny thing about Zoho Show, the presentation app from Zoho's suite, is that when you import a presentation, it recommends to make it read-only. In this case, this would be just a PPT viewer, like the one available in Gmail. Once you import your presentation, there's a magical link at the top of the window that lets you actually view, but you'll have to guess it. The application is very simple and doesn't go beyond inserting some text, shapes and arrows. The rendering of the presentation is worse than Gmail's and the slide show looks even worse.


Zoho Creator is something that Google doesn't have and it actually works great. It's the online version of Microsoft Access and it lets you create and manage database applications. The nice thing about the app is that you can easily build forms that can be embedded in your site and populate your database. You can create contact forms or more complex things like a CRM application. There's a big list of templates, a simple way to build scripts for your forms, you have email notifications. The application only needs better reports, some SQL support and an API.

Speaking of which, Zoho has some APIs that enable other services to list your files hosted at Zoso, to import/export files and also to edit remote documents. There's nothing like Google Spreadsheets API that lets you interact with a spreadsheet more granularly, but Zoho's purpose was probably to make it easy to integrate with storage services that lack document editing features.

While Google Docs lacks many features already available in Zoho's office suite (and even entire apps) and the existing features are more limited, Google's applications are much more stable and work better if you share your files with other people. Zoho offers a lot of tools, including a plugin for Microsoft Office that lets you work on your files online and saves them to Zoho from Microsoft Word and Excel. Their integration with Microsoft products and the impressive size of the portfolio certainly makes Zoho a candidate for a Microsoft acquisition.

Zoho's future plans are to integrate their products and to provide a proper replacement for Microsoft Outlook: email, calendar, contacts and task management. Zoho Mail is not yet ready for prime time, but you can see a demo here.

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