Web 2.0: Zoho Gears Up - InformationWeek

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9/18/2008
09:43 PM
Serdar Yegulalp
Serdar Yegulalp
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Web 2.0: Zoho Gears Up

The other year, when I first looked at Zoho, it was (to me) an upstart curiosity. Now it's a force to be taken seriously in the online apps space, thanks to leveraging open source in its work -- even while it faces possible competition from, you guessed it, open source.

The other year, when I first looked at Zoho, it was (to me) an upstart curiosity. Now it's a force to be taken seriously in the online apps space, thanks to leveraging open source in its work -- even while it faces possible competition from, you guessed it, open source.

A while back I mentioned OpenGoo, a Web-based office suite designed with Zoho-like functionality, but which can be hosted on your own servers. When I spoke to Zoho chief Raju Vegesna about this, he wasn't terribly worried. Why? I asked.

"Most of the people who come to us are not folks who have an IT department in the first place; we are their IT department. With this competitor [OpenGoo], there's no support built in." That also was how Raju billed Zoho back when I first spoke to him -- the IT department for people who don't have one. One million-plus users later, that still seems to hold true.

That sparked a question: How professional are users getting with it?

"From what we've seen," Raju told me, "most of the people using it are in departments of large corporations. We only find out about this because they send us support e-mails that have the company's name on it. Most of these folks are doing it without telling their own IT departments, too, and so every now and then one of these companies contacts us and asks for information about who's using us. We can't tell them that, of course, but we can offer to set them up with an account to make things easier for everyone."

Without naming names, he did say that a good many of the companies involved are Fortune 500 folks -- and the people within them that use Zoho typically do so without telling their IT departments. That reminded me, oddly enough, of the way Macs find their way into enterprises: people bring them in and start using them; IT declares they won't support it; in time, they have Mac deployments simply because so many of their people refuse to use anything else.

The stuff going on behind the scenes at Zoho is equally fascinating. For one, there's vTiger CRM, an alternative to SugarCRM that's entirely open source (the only charge is for support) and profitable on its own. Zoho's own CRM app is patterned after it, but runs on Java (vTiger uses PHP).

Another intriguing development involves Zoho Creator, its online database application (and a very powerful one at that). What's on the road map is the ability to market the applications you've created with Creator -- either in a forge-type fashion where you give it away with licensing of your choice, or sell it. Even more interesting is the planned export functionality, which will let you turn out a version of a Creator app in Google Apps-friendly Python.

What kind of future do you think open source has in the enterprise generally? I asked. (This was outside of whether or not they were being used to build Web-based suites or stuff deployed on the desktop.)

"Over time, the infrastructure -- the servers, the middleware -- will probably become predominantly open source. Desktop apps are another story, though." That, however, prompted me to think the future of open source desktops may not be with local apps at all, but tools like Zoho (whether hosted domestically or remotely).

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