Zoho quietly builds Google competitor

I often think that Zoho doesn’t get enough credit for the work it has done building a Web-based, Office-style suite of apps. As TechCrunch is reporting (and others have mentioned in the past), the company has launched an application marketplace where developers can host apps that they create with Zoho Creator, an Ajax-driven platform that makes it easy to put together small Web applications. The launch is just the latest in a steady series of releases from Zoho over the past year or so.

Developers who sell applications through the marketplace get 100 per cent of the revenue from anything they sell, which is a nice change from many similar Web stores, and hosting apps on Zoho’s database service will be free for small applications (those that draw a larger crowd will pay a fee, the company says). “We are trying to be the IT department for small and medium-sized businesses,” a Zoho evangelist told InformationWeek. The marketplace joins the Zoho family of Web services, which includes a mail application, word processor, spreadsheets, a presentation creator, a CRM app, a chat service and several other services.

One of the things that I keep being impressed by is how quickly Zoho moves to add new features. With the addition of offline access for its Web-mail service — which is powered by Google Gears — the company now has offline functionality for mail and its word processing and spreadsheet apps, which makes them even more useful for individuals or small businesses. And it has added both of these features before Google, even though it is using Google’s own Gears service to do so. According to at least one report, General Electric has chosen to go with Zoho’s app suite instead of Google Apps.

But won’t Google and/or Microsoft, both of whom are going after the “cloud computing” market, inevitably crush Zoho? Not necessarily. Founder Sridhar Zembu has said that he believes there is room for another player in the Web app sphere, one that caters to smaller businesses than either Google or Microsoft would be interested in. I think he’s right, and I think that Zoho stands a good chance of providing that alternative.

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