Software // Enterprise Applications
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2/2/2007
11:35 AM
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Zoho Notebook Takes Aim At Microsoft OneNote

AdventNet's online collaboration and note-taking tool could give OneNote a run for its money.

AdventNet is certainly bent on giving Google a run for its money. Its Zoho line of online apps--which includes a word processor (Zoho Writer), spreadsheet (Zoho Sheet), wiki (Zoho Wiki), and presentation package (Zoho Show)--is one of the few free office suites that has the potential to give apps such as Google Docs & Spreadsheets any competition. The latest addition, Zoho Notebook, a collaboration and note-taking tool, could go beyond Google and challenge Microsoft's OneNote.

Zoho Notebook is described online as letting you "create, aggregate, and collaborate on multiple types of content online." The idea is to give users one place to assemble a variety of information: text, line drawings, images, Web pages, video, RSS feeds, and other media. It's Microsoft OneNote on an Ajax diet.

Notebook has a lot of potential for people who like working online and especially those who want to share. You could, for example, create an online notebook that contains a spreadsheet with your project budget, the text of your latest report, an image of your sample product with some flaws circled, and a video of your engineer explaining what went wrong.

HOW IT WORKS

Zoho Notebook is nicely laid out: To the left of the workspace, there's a series of buttons that let you add new notebooks, pages, and elements. Tabs on top let you go from one notebook to another; pages are tabbed on the right.

Microsoft OneNote

(click image for larger view)
On the bottom right, a small toolbar lets you access the drawing tools. It took me a few minutes to find it, but once I did, it was very handy for circling text, making freehand notes, etc. I especially liked the bubble shape (think dialog balloons in comics) that lets you point to an element on the page and comment. I also liked Notebook's multimedia elements; I easily added a video feed that I had previously posted on YouTube. OneNote can't do that--it only takes direct video from a camera.

The ability to share your work is a major advantage of online apps. Zoho lets you share whole notebooks, pages, or just separate objects on a page by hitting the "Actions" button that's at the bottom right of every object, or the "Share" button at the top of every page. You'll also be able to publish any Notebook page to a public Web page (a feature that didn't work for me in the alpha release).

Currently, the Share feature requires that you know the Zoho user name of the person you want to share with. I hope that by the time it hits beta status, Zoho Notebook follows the example of Google's Docs & Spreadsheets--you should be able to invite a nonmember to join, rather than just getting a terse "Share Failed" message.

Finally, one important feature that I didn't see is a search function. If I'm going to be putting a lot of notes and other information into Zoho Notebook, I'll want to be able to find it quickly. Without its own search, all of Notebook's other great features won't do me a lot of good.

Zoho Notebook is in a limited alpha test mode; according to AdventNet, it will be released for public beta in March.

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