IT|Redux

Unstoppable

Tuesday, January 30th 2007 | Ismael Ghalimi

They were first to release an integrated Office 2.0 suite. Then, they were first to release a single sign-on interface for it. Today, they are first to put all the pieces together into a single user interface. Welcome Zoho Notebook.

First, some bad news: Zoho Notebook was announced today at DEMO 07, but it won’t be available to the general public until March. In the meantime, a happy few got access to the private beta so they could write and talk about it. I am one of them. I also got the privilege of getting a demonstration from Raju Vegesna, Zoho’s Chief Evangelist and Notebook’s Product Manager.

Second, some good news: the application is absolutely amazing. As you would expect, Zoho Notebook lets you take notes online, but it’s a lot more than that. In a nutshell, Zoho Notebook is a place where you can aggregate any kind of content, share it with your colleagues and friends, and publish it onto the Web. You can create as many books as you want, and add any number of pages to any book. On a page, you can add some text, images, audio or video recordings, HTML code, links to external resources, RSS feeds, files, spreadsheets, documents developed with Zoho Writer, tasks, planners, contacts, calendars, anything…

But what makes Zoho Notebook truly remarkable is the ability to get access control and versioning at the object level, rather than just at the page or book level. What this means is that when you add an object to a page—say a piece of text, you can share it with whoever you want, either with read/write access or read only, while not sharing any other object on the page. And when modifications are made to this piece of text, a new version is created, independently of any modification that could have been made to the rest of the page. To be fair, this feature can also be found with some sophisticated Content Management Systems (CMS), but never has it been implemented with such an easy to user interface, which also happens to be totally free to use.

And it does not stop here. In their attempt at making collaborative content development even more effective, the good folks at Zoho added some clever support for Skype. If you share an object with someone who has a Zoho account and recorded her Skype ID into her Zoho profile, a set of Skype icons automatically appear next to the object, allowing you to engage into a discussion over Skype with the person you shared the object with. Here is yet another example of the kind of feature you get when all the pieces come together.

So what does all this mean? Well, for starters, Zoho is running faster than anybody else in developing the core technologies that are required for delivering an integrated Office 2.0 experience. You can think of it as the Office 2.0 equivalent of DCOM and OLE. For Microsoft, it took about ten years to get a first version running. For Zoho, it took less than one. Granted, we do not have the same level of integration yet, but it’s coming fast. Really fast…

Congratulations to the Zoho team, this one is really cool.

Disclaimer: I am an advisor to AdventNet, Zoho’s parent company.

Update 2007-01-31: Jonathan Crow from ThinkFree gave us some valid comments about who was first with an integrated Office 2.0 suite. I want to be fair with everybody, so here is a transcript, which I believe to be pretty accurate:

While Zoho was the first to have a complete AJAX suite, we launched the beta of ThinkFree Online in June of 2005. We also had single sign-on and integrated document lists and folders from the very start. We actually launched the initial version of our office productivity suite at DEMO 2000, but had to put it back in the box for a while when the bandwidth proved to be too great a problem to overcome at that time. To be fair it is hard to do an apples to apples comparison since the single sign-on for Zoho includes so much more than we offer.”

Disclaimer: I am an advisor to ThinkFree as well.

Entry filed under: Office 2.0

6 Comments - Add a comment

1. Zoho Blogs&hellip  |  January 30th, 2007 at 10:40 pm

[…] I have a good news and a bad news today. […]

2. Francis Ip  |  January 31st, 2007 at 1:43 am

Ismael,

The object sharing capability in Zoho Notebook to me sounds like DCOM and OLE in Microsoft Windows! It would be interesting to see how it works when someone needs to update a diagram embedded in a document, let us say a CAD drawing in DWG format. Nevertheless it is a giant step forward to build such capability within the Java environment. The Zoho Office Suite didn’t work out the way as expected though when I tested it last December! The behaviours were unpredictable when using different browsers (e.g. IE6, IE7, and Firefox), and it is not quite browser independent yet!

Best regards
 -Francis

3. So, umm… yeah&hellip  |  January 31st, 2007 at 8:43 pm

[…] Another cool site that I’ll be waiting for is Zoho Notebook. […]

4. Zoho Blogs&hellip  |  February 2nd, 2007 at 1:56 am

[…] The announcement of the Private Alpha of Zoho Notebook […]

5. Robert  |  February 8th, 2007 at 12:13 pm

I have to say, this looks pretty spiffy. I’ve been looking for a replacement for Microsoft OneNote, and this looks just like the thing.

6. David  |  June 6th, 2007 at 10:44 pm

Ismael,

I know this is an older blog post, but since I believe you have some input with regards to Zoho, here goes. I like Zoho Notebook, but am very disappointed they do not allow the creation of notebooks, folders (tabs) within notebooks, and then pages within folders (tabs). That is the paradigm Microsoft used for OneNote, and I must say for once Microsoft got it right.

Zoho allows you to create a notebook, and then all the notebooks just show up as folders above. That is, in my opinion, redundant and bad UI design. The advantage of the Microsoft approach is that it allows better, much better segregation of data without having to create countless notebooks and countless pages. For this reason I must stick with OneNote.

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