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There are many players in the cloud productivity tool market with Microsoft (Office 365) and Google (Google Docs) being some of the most widely recognized. However Zoho has been around for awhile with a suite of applications that rivals the offerings from these much larger companies and in some cases provide an even greater range of capabilities.

But before I proceed, I'll let Zoho tell you about what they do...

I've been using Zoho since 2007. In those days, they didn't have the range of applications they do now, but neither did Microsoft or Google! I was in the middle of doing an MBA and it was Zoho Polls (now Zoho Challenge) that initially caught my attention when I needed to do an online survey. But then I moved on to Zoho Projects to help organize my dissertation. At the time, I also used both the 'Sheet' and 'Writer' applications. So with five years of using Zoho under my belt, I think I can speak from experience.

To give you an idea of what's available, here's what you'll see when you visit Zoho...

Zoho Applications

Zoho Applications

Surprisingly enough, Zoho has been around for a relatively long time (for the web that is). It was founded in 1996 as AdventNet Inc and became Zoho Corporation in 2009. It has offices around the world in the US, India and Asia, but not Europe. So with a decent history on the web, over 25 online applications and "more than 5 million users" (including me), Zoho is certainly worth looking at.

Webhost 1&1 seems to think so too, since it bundles "1&1 Online Office", which includes Zoho apps rebranded as 1&1 Writer (Word processing), 1&1 Sheet (Spreadsheet) and 1&1 Show (Presentations), as part of its web host packages in the UK.

With the range of applications above, Zoho is clearly aiming at businesses, but Zoho's applications can still be used by individuals, with both free and paid tiers for most apps. The free tiers easily accomodate individuals, and maybe even SMBs. But as you start to expand your use of Zoho, then it's time to start paying for the service. However, I've been using Zoho for years and haven't paid anything yet! If you want more information on Zoho pricing, a good place to go is the pricing page.

Let's do a quick estimate of what a small business might use and how much it might cost. In the following monthly costing, I'm considering five users with access to all the following features:

App Storage Cost (per user) Extended Cost
Zoho Mail - Standard account 10 GB /user $2.50 $12.50
Zoho Docs - Standard edition w/ 10 workspaces 1 GB /user $3.00 $15.00
Zoho Wiki - Business edition 1 GB /user $3.00 $15.00
Zoho Projects - Express edition w/ 20 projects, unlimited users 5 GB - $20.00
Zoho Invoice - Standard edition w/ 500 customers, 3 users N/A - $15.00
Total Monthly Cost $77.50

This equates $930 year for a small five person business and provides email, online document management with a wiki, some project management and a way of invoicing customers. Another way to think about it is $200/user/year—not too bad when compared to equivalent licensing costs from other players in the market. However, it's difficult to do a direct comparison because no one else provides all these services!

With those costs in mind, let's take a brief tour of Zoho's three main app groups.

Productivity Applications

Zoho Productivity Applications

Zoho Productivity Applications

The first group, Productivity Applications, includes some familiar functions. Zoho Calendar speaks for itself, Zoho Sheet is your typical spreadsheet application, Zoho Show the stand-in for Microsoft Powerpoint and Zoho Writer for word processing.

Note that if you're in the UK as I am, Zoho Sheet supports inputting dates in US format only (12/31/12), although it can display in UK format (31/12/12). I find this annoying, especially since this issue has been on Zoho's books to address for some time. However, there are some other applications under the productivity umbrella that are of interest, in part as you don't often see them elsewhere:

  • Zoho Notebook might be considered to something like Microsoft OneNote, where you can combine various types of information such as spreadsheets, text documents, URLs, RSS, images etc. Zoho refers to it as 'Aggregate and Collaborate Information Easily'. I've had limited success finding a good use for this application, but it's still certainly worth a look
  • Zoho Planner is an online tool to help manage your activities. It allows you to create pages of to do lists and appointments, to which you can add notes and attachments. The to do lists and appointments also come with email reminders. If you're trying to get yourself more organized, then this is worth considering
  • Zoho Plug-in for Microsoft Office allows you get the benefits of Zoho while uses the Microsoft applications you recognize. It also allows for collaboration by helping you share documents, and allows for offline editing of documents
  • Zoho Office for Microsoft SharePoint is basically a plug-in that lets use make use of your existing Microsoft SharePoint infrastructure. It allows you collaborate, share, edit and manage your content in Microsoft SharePoint

The main part of the Zoho Productivity Application suite that you pay for is Zoho Office for Microsoft SharePoint. While the productivity applications are generally free, if you start to eat up the storage, you'll move into paid territory. It's worth considering signing up to learn more.

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