Zoho Adopts Offline Mode For Its Web-Based Applications

Announcement quells criticisms mounted by businesses accustomed to traditional installed tools

Zoho, a web-based suite of productivity applications, announced yesterday that users of its word processor software can edit their documents in an offline mode. The announcement quells one of the primary criticisms mounted against the two-year-old start-up and its primary competitor, Google Apps, by businesses accustomed to traditional installed tools like Microsoft Office.

Raju Vegesna, chief evangelist at Zoho, admitted the move won't catapult the company into the enterprise space just yet but he says it will help Zoho garner more small business (SMB) customers.

"We don't think the online office suites are enterprise ready yet," Vegesna says. "The current functionalities are targeted toward SMBs. Eventually you'll see an enterprise version. The apps need to mature more before going to the enterprise."

In order to make online functionality available offline, users must add the Google Gears extension to their web browser. The Internet giant made Gears available to the developer community in May to create more offline modes for its Google Apps suite and other web-based applications. Back in August, Zoho made its Writer application available to take offline via Google Gears, but in a read-only mode. Now users can also edit offline.

"The Office 2.0 vendors have matured in terms of how they look at the market," says Forrester analyst Kyle McNabb. "A lot of the Office 2.0 software vendors rushed into the market without taking a strong look at how people work. They've begun to realize that people aren't tethered to broadband all the time."

Zoho, owned by AdventNet, has garnered nearly 500,000 users since it launched in September 2005, including small business customers. Although Zoho's apps include basic productivity tools such as a word processor and spreadsheet, it recently added more sophisticated ones such as CRM and project management tools.

Vegesna says the company will continue to address concerns about Zoho as a business-worthy set of tools, including better security features such as increased encryption for online files.

"Offline mode is a relevant concern and now we have addressed it," Vegesna says. "But it's a matter of time before these apps evolve even more."

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