Monday, December 26, 2011

Part 10, Free and Cheap Software for the SOHO Office


Zeal for Zoho for SOHO

Part A - The Zoho applications

Zoho isn’t competing for world domination, like Google or Microsoft, so when thinking of a musical or dramatic representation for Zoho, I keep coming back to Rossini’s opera Wilhelm Tell (known in English as William Tell). I particularly hear it with the Overture to the opera, especially the ending section which, those who are old enough, remember as the theme to 50’s TV’s The Lone Ranger (although others may be young enough to remembers the reruns). Remembering the opera’s famous dramatic scene, we wonder if Zoho’s Tell will be forced to shoot an Apple off his son’s head with bow and arrow? (Success may hinge on whether it’s an iPod or an  iPad.)

When not posing as a Texas Ranger, offers a wide variety of online services and is little David to Google's (or Microsoft's) Goliath. Zoho would be touted as a prototypical American start-up success story except for the detail that it was created in India. All its applications are accessible at Zoho is marketed mainly to businesses, but allows free use of its applications, even business apps, to individuals. Zoho offers many business solutions that are not available from Google. Zoho also has some of the most polite and helpful customer service reps in the world.

The ability to work with other people and other software is a priority for Zoho. It offers Zoho Gadgets, API’s and other tools to connect with your computer, your web pages, and home pages. It also has plugins for sharing info with Microsoft Office, SharePoint and Outlook, browser tools, mobile phone tools, and Facebook and Twitter resources. You can also embed Zoho mini-apps into your iGoogle page to mix and match access to your favorite applications.

Both Zoho and Google offer a gigabyte of free online storage for your files and backups, but 

Zoho Mail and several other applications give you the option of accessing files from your computer, from Zoho’s Docs, and also from Google Docs!

​Zoho's applications are divided into three main areas:

Productivity (includes most of your basic office apps):
  • Calendar (very similar to Google's)
  • Docs (your files collection)
  • Notebook - similar to Evernote or OneNote
  • Planner - To Dos and Reminders
  • Sheet - spreadhseets
  • ​Show - presentations
  • Writer - word processing

Collaboration includes:
  • Chat - IM chat on Zoho, Google, Facebook or Yahoo!; and options to set up instant chat with customers or blog readers (probably more practical for corporate blogs)
  • Discussions - for either Customer support or internal group or corporate communications
  • Mail Suite - email, individual or corporate
  • Meeting - Sponsor online meetings from your desktop or give remote support
  • Projects - A full featured group project management application
  • Share -  A public space to share your presentations, documents, spreadsheets and PDFs with the internet and other Zoho users.
  • Wiki - create a Wiki for your group
Business, includes full-featured, specialized business applications:
  • Assist - a customer service module
  • Books - an accounting package
  • BugTracker - as it implies, software to track bug reports
  • Creator - an application creator based on its database core; or use as a database.
  • CRM - a full-featured Customer Relationship Manager program, just recently updated
  • Invoice - create and track invoices
  • People - HR module for tracking employees
  • Recruit - HR program for tracking job applicants
  • Reports - create reports from your Creator database or from other data sources.

Zoho's applications are designed for collaboration. Zoho also takes collaboration to another level by allowing its applications to be used byGoogle business users, who can access many Zoho features from within their Google workspace. In particular, Zoho's CRM, Projects, Invoice and Creator can also be linked with Google enterprise accounts. Google users can then access these apps through Google's universal menu. You can also send files from Google to Zoho from within Google, allowing you to attach emails, files and other information to Zoho CRM, Invoice, Projects or Creator, as appropriate. There are other ways to tie together the two software suites when you connect the two:
  • You can set up web meetings in Zoho and have the schedule show up in Google Calendars.
  • You can create a Zoho Project from Google's Mail.
  • You can embed gadgets into Google Sites and Mail to show Project updates.
  • Project milestones are shown on Google Calendars.
  • You can sync Zoho Project items with Google tasks.
  • Zoho Creator has pre-designed fields to insert Google IDs, and more.
Note that, as an individual, you can use any Zoho application for free! Obviously, the collaboration applications are designed to be used with much larger groups. But if you want to check out CRM or Creator to see if it can meet your needs (or you want to use CRM as a high-powered Personal Information Manger or create a specialized database in Creator, go ahead. Also, Zoho offers generous discounts for nonprofits. 

To write about all these application would take an entire book (or maybe a stack of them).  We'll just discuss a few of the applications appropriate to small and home office users and freelancers in the next installment.

Keywords: Zoho, Writer, apps, office, SOHO, collaboration, business, Rossini