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FOSS,ODT and Zoho

Hi all,
This post shares and compares the web-service/web suite called zoho along comparing it in some terms with Google docs. This is more in terms using the popular FOSS format .odt

This is sort of continuation of my last post

For a long long time I have been looking for a solution which would give me .odt support. For those who came late to the show .odt is an open and free format in which comes from openoffice family of Sun Microsystems. One can find about .odt in detail here. Apart from Openoffice.org applications such as abiword and others also play a useful role. One of the benefits they are legally free to use personally and the format itself is not encumbered in any way made its choice for me.

Now the problem for me started when I want to share and let others look at .odt on the web. I looked at various services and the only one which came somewhere is zoho. Before venturing further I would also state that all the services I tried, I tried the free (public) version of the web services they give. If there is/are enhanced services for pay I don’t know about them.

While I will not go into the details of all the services I would have to take google docs to taask. For all its talk of mutliple formats 8 out of 10 times the google docs converter would die if I tried to pull .odt docs in it. With zoho I had slightly more luck but also ran into many more problems as well.

Let’s take the good and bad I feel there is.

Good

a. Unlike most of the sites where you have to open a new account and register, it gives you the option of using a single sign-in service using your google or yahoo ids. Hotmail is not supported, most probably because MS may have wanted some money for having such a service.

It is a play/implementation on identity management and google and yahoo have embraced it, good for them. Sites like zoho are using them so good for users (less headache and less usernames and passowrds to remember. ) You would well do to also read an interesting conversation/post about third-party authentication here as well.

From me +5 to zoho on this for simplifying it for some users while at the same time giving users the option to make the account if they so wish.

b. Wide variety of services :- They are constantly adding new and newer services to their table. I am not really sure if that is a good or bad thing, look further down for my rationale on the same.

c. .ODT support :- It is there but there are still many things that need to be worked out . They have also have some latex support but haven’t played/worked with latex much so cannot say.

So +2 for atleast trying.

d. Support for google gears :- This is actually a tie as both this and google docs use gears so can’t give it any points.

So for good its 7 points .

BAD

a. The support :- How zoho gives support is by forums. Now the forum style and how it has been designed is clearly a lightweight implementation. Lightweight as in to server. The problem is there are no tags and nor can any potential user use the search engine to quickly find if people had the same issues. The forums themselves use the antiquated categories format rather than having keywords and tags to simplify the whole process.

– 5 as users would be spending more time trying to find similar issues and not getting them, putting them and getting lost within the interface. I don’t know how they hope to scale this system up if and when more and more users join.

a2. There is one more way in which they do give support that is through the getsatisfaction site . While that web-service is much better its not given on the homepage so -2 for that. This sort of information should be on the homepage Also they should have one face/interface to the user. Having two places is just going to confuse users and visitors and add stress to those giving support .

b. Too many things :- They have too many things and it tends to clutter the interface. They need to figure it out to make it easier/simpler for people to find things.

c. Lag :- Because of so many things and not having as many servers as say google docs the latency goes through the roof. Also having javascript for everything (similar to gmail) does add to the latency factor . – 2 there.

d. Anti-virus :- Whenever one uploads an .odt document or a .doc or whatever, it takes the document and tries to run an anti-virus through it. Now many a times it takes more than an hour and the anti-virus is still running. I don’t know why is that. To relate to that, I ran the same documents at virustotal.com , the whole operation including going through tens of anti-virus checks were completed in less than 2 minutes and mind you, there was traffic on other tabs.

-5

e. Very slow technical team :- These issues while I’m talking the first time in public domain, have been pursuing the same with the technical team for over a month now in my volunteer time/effort. While Mr. SatishT has been exemplary in his conversations, cannot say the same for the technical team.

To show specifically the latency issues I also used firebug and related tools and should thank firebug people for making a beautiful tool.

I do realize that the technical priorities may be different than mine but not able to respond to stuff even when data is being given along with that I don’t know😦

-2 .

f. The code base is closed just as its of google docs. So issues of security would always be in the back of mind. There is something called Zeng Office but as there is no open/free implementation of that as an end-user free (as in beer) implementation its hard to know.

-5.

Few more things to note :-

a. There has been no comment from the company about commitment to either free and open formats/solutions etc.

b. If you try to place this initiative in the opencloudinitiative.org graphic, it would be somewhere between closed/proprietary and open cloud. They seem to be fence-sitters.

c. To its credit, the web-service is trying to talk to too many people without either having the strength (financial and otherwise) that its big competitor Google has.

So in this preliminary lookup zoho doesn’t stack as my ideal web service . -16 vs 7 .

So the search continues.

An Off-Topic Notice :- Drupal Sprint 2009 is being held in Pune. Be here or be square :P]

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