Zoho Projects 2.0 Beats Google Wave to the Punch (Kindof)

Is social project collaboration the next big thing online? Will we finally see all of the separate tools that we currently use for communication and collaboration (email, IM, documents, micro-blogs, etc) integrate into seamless tools? Google is heading that way with Google Wave. Or, at least we think they are. Still waiting for that invite to come through…

Which leads me to the big problem with hyping a tool before you release it – your competitors will beat you to the punch. Maybe Google is banking that Wave will be cooler than anything else anyone else can rush to the market. But if your competitor comes out with a tool that works for everyone that wants to use it – people will stick with theirs no matter how cool your idea is.

That brings me to Zoho Projects 2.0. Many of the features sound similar to Google Wave – like integrating chat with online documents and project flow and all that. Zoho’s take on social project collaboration is a bit more business minded – you can create milestones and post progress updates and such. Zoho doesn’t hype the synchronous/asynchronous integration like Wave does, but it is there. Which I think is okay – I really don’t think people are going to care that much about switching between synchronous and asynchronous. Synchronous communication is a huge drain on productivity, so I predict that many people will be turning off some of Google Wave’s synchronous innovations. Really – who needs synchronous online document editing? Too many editors in the room will cause some big arguments. There is a reason that face-to-face meetings only have one person at the white board taking notes, even thought many whiteboards are monstrous in size these days and there are usually enough pens for everyone to go around.

But the biggest missing feature of Zoho Project 2.0 is the open-source attitude that Google Wave embraces. The ability to install Google Wave on your server and then customize it the way you want will be killer. Zoho Projects will only be good for educational projects that can fit into it’s design and flow. Which will be several, no doubt – but Google Wave will potentially have the ability to adapt to whatever anyone wants. If you want to dig into the codes and/or APIs, that is.

Still, I can see Zoho Projects appealing to a certain mindset. For more information and a demo video, see this post:

Announcing The Social Way To Get Things Done: Zoho Projects 2.0

Remote Desktop Access Using… Zoho?

We all like the companies that think of cool new tech tools for us to play with. For the most part, many of these companies still think within their respective box – even if the box is still out there and inventive. What I really like is when people that work for these inventive companies start finding inventive ways to use their inventive programs. Are you tired of me using that word? At least I didn’t use the work ‘maverick.’

I came across this blog post on the official Zoho blog describing how you could use Zoho Meeting to access a desktop remotely (and for free). Cool use of a tool, I thought – and then I came to the disclaimer at the bottom about this idea not being officially supported by Zoho – it was just a good idea someone there had.

Concepts like this are interesting, especially seeing that Zoho also works on mobile app versions of their products. Could remote access of a desktop through your iPhone or other mobile device be too far behind this? You never know. But think of the possibilities for “anytime, anywhere learning” if that does come true.

Zoho Writer Adds New Features That Educators Need

It’s no big secret that I have a lot of love for Zoho. Someday I would like to do a run down of all the tools that Zoho offers. That would be a huge post, or even a series of posts. Today I want to point out some new features of Zoho Writer that make it a great tool for educators – online and off-line.

The coolest news is that Zoho Writer now lets users edit documents off-line. This addresses the biggest draw back for people that weren’t sure about switching from Microsoft to any online document editor: how do you edit documents when you don’t have an Internet connection? Zoho Writer uses Google Gears to store copies of your documents on your local computer. The nice feature is that you can edit those documents and then sync them with your online documents once you go back online.

I tried this out today, and it works really nice. You edit the documents in your browser, even when off-line. Just click a link to switch from online to off-line. The only downside is that not all features are available off-line (like inserting web links or spell check). But a very nice start.

The great thing about this is that teachers wouldn’t have to worry about lost assignments. Work on papers off-line in class, sync with an online account, and students can work on them at home.

Zoho Writer has also taken online document editing to the next level by being the first to allow headers and footers in documents. This combined with a new “Page View” function (lets you see the print layout) now gives me just about every tool I ever used in MS Word.

But let’s not forget that this is all for free online. I am still pulling for someone to create a Moodle integration API.

Also, if you are interested, Zoho explained why they use AJAX instead of Flash for their applications. Good points.

Zoho’s Online vs. Offline Office Comparison

A few weeks ago I noticed a mistake I was constantly making: I would forget to follow what is going on with Zoho, and then they would release a whole slew of improvements and updates on me. Silly EduGeek. So, I added Zoho Blog to my RSS feeds and decided to keep in the know.

I am really glad I did – and I recommend you do the same. Not only do they keep you up-to-date on their newest online office applications (which I still consider them the leader in, even though Google is a close second), but they do some great posting on web-based applications in general. Some of their posts would even make great fodder for a company or school district technology policy meeting. You know what I mean – the one where you are trying to convince your co-workers to finally come out of the 90s and into the Web 2.0 world, and they are terrified to leave their safe desktop cage.

Take a recent post for example: Office vs Online Office : Telephone vs Mobile Phone. Raju Vegesna makes a great case for the differences between online office applications and offline desktop office programs by comparing them to mobile phones and wired telephones (respectively).

The great thing about the Zoho blog is that they don’t hide things or give you imaginary marketing fluff like I’ve noticed other sites do. They are even very honest about their limitations.

Of course, this post got me thinking about what my job could be like if I could go mobile. Or what a classroom on my campus could be like if it goes mobile. Hmmm……

Online Publication Competition Heats Up

Maybe Google was on to something? And not mention other front runners such as Zoho and Writely (which was purchased by Google)? Many recent articles and blogs have highlighted how Microsoft, IBM, and Adobe are entering in to the online publication world. This can be good and bad for the world of education.

First of all, if you aren’t totally familiar with what is going on, PC World has a good article that summarizes the recent happenings. Here’s the basics: Adobe purchased Buzzword, a Flash-based online Word processor. IBM released Lotus Symphony, an open-source Office-like program based on OpenOffice.org software. Some speculate that they will connect this with some online service at some point. Microsoft released Office Live Workspace, a place for Office users to store documents online, allowing users to download and share collaborative documents. Even though, to be fair, Zoho (see Zoho Projects) and others has been offering stuff like this for a while.

Now, if you are like me, the Microsoft Office Live Workspace is just, well, meh. I hate to use a cliché word like ‘meh,’ but that best describes it. Just a password protected place to store documents online? I can rent webspace for $20 a year and do the same thing. Nice try, Microsoft – but I still don’t think you get Web2.0 yet.

I really wanted to turn this post into a review of all the new options, but I sadly can’t. Buzzword is not accepting new users right now – you can sign up to be on the wait list. Still waiting. They say they are the first real Online Word Processor. That’s just arrogant. Being in Flash might give them an edge over AJAX-based stuff like Google Docs, but you guys still aren’t the first real one. Writely, Zoho, and a host of others are still technically real.

I’ve tried to try out Lotus Symphony, but it is the freakiest experience I have had so far. I had to installed a Java applet just to download it (?!?). A lot of options came up after that that I wasn’t comfortable with. Installing the whopping 140mb file that downloaded on my computer was twisted and complex – and I know some complex programming techniques and languages. If I ever get this figured out, maybe I’ll write a review. I don’t see more than a few really patient people (more patient than me) getting in to this one.

So how is this good and bad for education? Well, the heat up in competition shows that free online applications are the next big thing. Free is always good for education. The bad for education? Well, this is all online. Good if you are at a school with relaxed filtering standards. Not so good if you are at a school with a “filter Nazi” in charge of the IT department. Also – when you have so many companies re-creating the wheel – you have too many wheels to chose from, and none of them work together very well. Not to mention to many sites to track – or the fact that some sites claim rights to use (or even own) the content that you store there.

We’ll see where all of this leads. In my opinion, Zoho is still the best option for any online publishing needs.

More Zoho Coolness

While doing some research for an upcoming presentation, I needed to come up with a list for all of the tools that Zoho offers. It turns out that the list has grown since I was last there.

Zoho already showcases several online tools that Google has – documents, spreadsheets, email, chat, calendars, to-do lists, etc. They also have presentations (PowerPoint-ish), wikis, databases (think MS Access), project managment. Now, they are adding ZohoMeeting and ZohoNotebook. ZohoMeeting is a Web Conferencing Tool that also looks to allow remote desktop access for people as they are away from their computers. ZohoNotebook is some type of multimedia share system that allows users to embed RSS feeds, music, vidoes, etc.

They are also offering downloads that allow you to sync your Desktop office documents with your online account. Nice. And a browser plugin for IE and Firefox that will allow you to open Office documents online – in your web browser. If someone gives you a link to a Word doc online, and you are a Firefox user – you can now open it directly in your browser.

I also liked one of the features of the ZohoChat: embed a chat in your website. Distance Ed teachers can now have a simpler way to conference with students online:

(click image to see the demo)
Zoho Chat

(had to move the chat interface to another page, because apparently it likes to steal the attention for the entire page…)