The Best Free Service You've Never Used

By SmallBusinessComputing Staff | Posted February 25, 2008

You may have heard of, but probably don't use, an online suite of office and productivity applications called Zoho.

I know, I know — another Web 2.0 wonder application. I mean, what's the point? You've already taken out a loan and purchased Microsoft Office. Or your company bought a license. Plus, you've invested your entire career learning Office. Why dump all that and start over with something you neither know nor trust?

Besides, if you're going to embrace an online office suite, you'll go with a major brand – like Google Apps, right?

I'm not here to convince you to use Zoho as a replacement for Microsoft Office. I want to convince you to try Zoho goodies a la cart. Zoho is packed with so much innovation and surprising coolness, that I'm certain you'll find a better way to do at least some small thing you're already doing. For example:

  • Better Blog Posting — Zoho offers a shockingly feature-rich word processor application, which you can use to create blog posts, and then upload them directly. It can simply replace the post-creation tool for Blogger, Wordpress, LiveJournal, TypePad and others that support the metaWeblog and Blogger APIs.

  • Better List Management — I recommended in a previous column a site called Gubb for managing "Getting Things Done" lists. But Zoho's Planner application is faster and easier to manage.

  • Better Web Page Creation — if you're not a Web developer, but need a quick-and-dirty page, most of the Zoho applications let you "save as" a browser-readable page.

  • Better Online Collaboration — Zoho, like Google Apps and many other alternatives, give you a Microsoft Word-like application that lets you grant permissions for others to work on the document, too. However, Zoho also gives you a Wiki tool, which is like document collaboration on steroids. Like the Wikipedia, you're given rich tools for multiple authorship and editorship of any document, with full formatting.

  • Better Brainstorming and Note-Taking — Zoho Notebook enables the creation of pages where you can do just about anything — embed words, images, audio clips, video, live Web pages, URLs, RSS feeds and documents created by other Zoho applications — and just drag and drop them around on the page. Then you can share, publish or export them into what Zoho calls a "book" or into a Web page. It’s the ultimate online napkin or “back of the envelope” for capturing ideas.

  • Better iPhone App Viewing — iZoho is the version for iPhone. You can use it to access and read Zoho applications from your iPhone. Unfortunately, Zoho doesn't support the Safari browser all that well (or, rather, Safari doesn’t support Web standards all that well), so you can't currently create or modify apps on the iPhone as far as I can tell.

  • Better PowerPoint — By simply importing your PowerPoint presentations into the free Zoho Show application, you'll be able to easily present from anybody's computer. You should be backing up your presentation online anyway – why not back up to a site that will play it, too? If you find yourself in a restaurant and want to make your pitch, you can use the mobile version (izoho.com or mini.zoho.com) and run the presentation from your iPhone!

  • Better Web Site Gadgets — Zoho's Show presentation application gives you a "Public Gadget" feature, which gives you insertable code that auto-runs your presentation from your Web site as a gadget or widget.

  • Better PDF Creation — Most of the major Zoho applications, including Zoho Writer, save in PDF format. So if you don't have a PDF creator installed on your PC, you can just import your document into Zoho, then export it into PDF.

  • Better Project Management — Most small projects are “managed” without professional grade project management tools. That’s because real project management software is expensive and complicated. Zoho offers a free and simplified version that gives you much of the power of major league applications, but without hitting your wallet or crushing you with a learning curve.

I could go on and on with such examples. The takeaway here is that Zoho is packed with useful surprises. And don't think of it as a replacement for Microsoft Office or an alternative to Google Apps. Think of it as a playground of productivity, where you can browse and pick and choose whatever you like — and ignore the rest.

Sign up and check it out here at Zoho.com.

Adapted from ITManagement.earthweb.com.

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