New Microsoft Office competition from Zoho, Zooos

Installed software is becoming so old-fashioned....At the Office 2.0 conference, two online productivity suites are showing off their work values.

The third annual Office 2.0 conference, which starts Thursday, is where people talk about getting real work done on the Web.

There will be no robotic ice-cream machines at the San Francisco conference. Likewise, soft-core porn start-ups won't be showing up.

Once again, I'm looking forward to hearing what's new in the world of work 2.0. First up are two productivity suites, one coming out Thursday from the hyperactive Zoho and another from a company you've probably never heard of: Zooos.

Zoho Docs: This is a new integration app on top of the company's suite of apps. We continue to point to Zoho as a prime example of how much productive work can really be done on the Web, without requiring downloadable software.

Zoho Docs integrates the main Zoho applications--and all your online data files--into one application. So like Google Docs, it's a launcher and a file system. But unlike with Google, the files can actually be opened up in the docs window, which makes for a somewhat simpler experience than Google, which opens docs in new browser windows or tabs.

It's a good evolution of Zoho's product set.

Zooos: This is a very interesting development: It's a port to the Web of Sun Microsystems' Open Office, a desktop productivity suite. And it has some clever tricks that even Sun doesn't support.

In addition to having the main Open Office apps, Zooos also has real-time collaboration, almost exactly like Google Docs offers. (Zooos doesn't let two users change text in the same paragraph in a word doc at the same time. Other than that, it does let them edit the same document simultaneously.)

Offline support (and syncing documents to the desktop) comes via a small browser plug-in (Firefox and Safari at launch; Internet Explorer to trail; Chrome unknown). And Zooos has a clever file management system. In addition to the usual suite-specific storage service, people can also access documents on their local PCs via accounts, FTP servers, and even YouTube and Picassa Web accounts. All these show up as folders.

Since Zooos runs on servers and doesn't require much on local machines other than a browser, it's also a decent solution for mobile users; most smartphones with browsers should be able to run the company's mobile-specific Web services and be able to use all the Zooos apps.

Zooos will run its own server farm so people can try out the suite over the Web, but the real business is selling software for companies to install on their own servers. This allows businesses to take advantage of cloud services without putting their employees' data on some other company's machines. The service will cost $999 a year for 10 users, with significant price breaks for more users and for extensions to the subscription after the first year. CEO Hishan El-Eman told me he hopes to launch the product in October.

The Zooos system gives you access to Web version of Open Office apps, as well as a very flexible file storage system.Photo by Zooos

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