Preview: Zoho Notebook Takes On Microsoft's OneNote - InformationWeek

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Preview: Zoho Notebook Takes On Microsoft's OneNote

The latest Zoho online application will provide a free place for assembling and sharing info -- once it's ready for prime time.

AdventNet is certainly bent on challenging the big boys. Its Zoho line of online applications -- which includes a word processor (Zoho Writer), spreadsheet (Zoho Sheet), wiki (Zoho Wiki) and presentation package (Zoho Show), among others -- is one of the few free office suites out there that has the potential to give apps such as Google Docs & Spreadsheets any competition. The latest addition to the suite, however, seems to have Microsoft's OneNote squarely in its sights: Zoho Notebook, a collaboration/note-taking tool.

According to the online description, Zoho Notebook (which is currently in a limited alpha release) lets you "Create, Aggregate and Collaborate on multiple types of content online." The idea is to give users a place to assemble a wide variety of information in one place: text, line drawings, images, Web pages, video, RSS feeds, and other media. In other words, Notebook is Microsoft OneNote on an AJAX diet.

Zoho Notebook will help users assemble a variety of data types.
(Click image to enlarge.)

Notebook has a lot of potential for people who like working online and especially those who want to share with others. 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 -- and then have others in your group review it and add their own comments.

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

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, I found it very handy for circling text, making freehand notes, etc. I especially liked the bubble shape (resembling the dialog balloons in comics) that lets you point to an element on the page and comment. I also admired Notebook's multimedia elements; for example, I easily added a video feed that I had previously posted on YouTube, something that OneNote can't do (it only takes direct video from a camera).

Let's Share
The ability to share your work with others is one of the major advantages of online applications. Zoho's heart is in the right place -- the app lets you share whole notebooks, pages, or even separate objects on a page, either by hitting the "Actions" button that is at the bottom right of every object, or the "Share" button at the top of every page. You will also be able to publish any Notebook page to a public Web page (a feature which didn't work in the alpha).

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 non-member to join, rather than just getting a terse "Share Failed" message.

Finally, one important feature that I did not see any evidence of 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 and easily. Without its own search, all of Notebook's other great features won't do me -- or anyone -- a lot of good.

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

Zoho Notebook
AdventNet, Inc.
Price: Free
Summary: Zoho Notebook may rival Microsoft OneNote in its ability to assemble notes, video, audio, spreadsheets and other data; the public beta is due in March.

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