Zoho quietly builds Google competitor

I often think that Zoho doesn’t get enough credit for the work it has done building a Web-based, Office-style suite of apps. As TechCrunch is reporting (and others have mentioned in the past), the company has launched an application marketplace where developers can host apps that they create with Zoho Creator, an Ajax-driven platform that makes it easy to put together small Web applications. The launch is just the latest in a steady series of releases from Zoho over the past year or so.

Developers who sell applications through the marketplace get 100 per cent of the revenue from anything they sell, which is a nice change from many similar Web stores, and hosting apps on Zoho’s database service will be free for small applications (those that draw a larger crowd will pay a fee, the company says). “We are trying to be the IT department for small and medium-sized businesses,” a Zoho evangelist told InformationWeek. The marketplace joins the Zoho family of Web services, which includes a mail application, word processor, spreadsheets, a presentation creator, a CRM app, a chat service and several other services.

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Zoho Writer: Where the hell is Google?

So Zoho — the online Office-style productivity suite company — has launched offline support for its Zoho Writer word-processing feature/service, which I quite like (I also use their presentation app, Zoho Show, which is excellent). Digital Inspiration originally broke the story, but Mike has some details at TechCrunch too.

As Eric Eldon at VentureBeat notes, Zoho has allowed users of Zoho Writer to read their documents offline for some time now, but not to edit them and then sync them later when they get online again. It has now added the latter feature, thanks to Google’s “Gears” technology, which allows online/offline syncing and which Google already uses in Google Reader.

My only question is this: Why on earth can’t we do the same thing with Google Docs? Google Gears has been out in the marketplace for months, and presumably was internally available for months before that. And we can already use it in Google Reader (although it isn’t much use with a dial-up connection, let me tell you).

So why can little Zoho somehow manage to integrate Google Gears and its document-editing features, but Google can’t? What the heck are all those PhDs doing over there at the Googleplex?

Zoho offline: Is being first enough?

As Mike Arrington points out at TechCrunch, Zoho has launched offline support for its Zoho Writer application (although it’s read-only for now) using Google Gears — which is more than a little ironic, considering Google still hasn’t offered the same functionality for Google Docs.

But while that irony makes for a funny post, does it really amount to anything from a competitive point of view? I’m not so sure it does. Implementing Gears support for Google Docs would probably take about half an hour of programming time — and in all likelihood requires little more than a piece of script to be turned on.

There’s no question that having offline support is a key feature, and Zoho should be congratulated for offering it. But Is being first enough to give it any kind of compelling advantage over Google Docs? Unlikely.