Online Office Market Gets New Access Options

Zoho is making further inroads in the online office market with the introduction of a unified log-in mechanism that allows users to use their Google and Yahoo ID to access Zoho's suite of Office-like apps, according to an announcement on Wednesday.

This latest development follows a series of offerings announced last month by the Boston, Mass.- and Pleasanton, Calif.-based online business application provider. In July, the company released a plug-in for Microsoft Access and Zoho Office for Microsoft SharePoint.

Citing a recent New York Time article, a Zoho spokesperson said, "Zoho is giving Google and Microsoft a run for their money in the online office market by making it even easier for people to try its suite of online business apps." However, Zoho "evangelist" Raju Vegesna stated in an e-mail that the company is not looking to migrate users from Google, but rather to complement Google Apps users with a broad range of productivity, collaboration and business offerings online.

"We believe by complementing Google Apps, we can add more value for businesses looking to expand their use of online applications," Vegesna said.

Zoho's unified log-in is a standards-based single sign-on (SSO) technology that "unites" all Zoho apps, according to Vegesna.

Microsoft last month announced an SSO claims-based identity management server platform Active Directory Federation Services (ADFS), formerly code-named Geneva, which will be available in the second half of 2009, according to a Microsoft blog. Gerry Gebel, an analyst at the Burton Group, said at the time that the ADFS platform is important for Microsoft because it will be used to establish connections with Microsoft's Windows Azure platform, supporting hosted applications such as SharePoint Online and Exchange Online.

Gebel stated in an e-mail this week that Zoho is using OpenID for Google, Google Apps and Yahoo, not the federation standards supported in ADFS.

Vegesna confirmed by e-mail that Google had opened its system to allow Zoho to offer "Login using Google" as an option. He said, "With Google opening this up for Google Apps, we were able to extend our previous implementation."

In a released statement, Vegesna reiterated that Zoho's efforts were not meant to convert users from other providers but to complement competitor applications. He added that Zoho offers business applications that are not available from other vendors.

"We are trying to be the IT department for SMBs," Vegesna said. "This means, apart from productivity apps, we also offer a broad range of collaboration and business apps, as well, where business can run entirely on Zoho. We have seen good adoption for our apps with close to 2 million users, and we are adding around 80 to 100 thousand users every month."

Gebel said in an e-mail that in today's market and economy, it is reasonable that SMBs can outsource all aspects of IT.

"I'm not just talking about adopting SaaS apps," Gebel said. "Google Apps now allows a company to register users in the cloud, and partners like Ping Identity facilitate SSO to apps hosted there or elsewhere in the cloud. Many other options like this exist today or are emerging from many providers."

About the Author

Herb Torrens is an award-winning freelance writer based in Southern California. He managed the MCSP program for a leading computer telephony integrator for more than five years and has worked with numerous solution providers including HP/Compaq, Nortel, and Microsoft in all forms of media.