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Zoho Notebook ate my homework

The new Zoho Notebook stores all sorts of files and Web feeds, but our early tests found some snags.

Zoho released its Notebook service today, better rounding off its suite of Web-based productivity tools. Zoho Notebook (more here) is really more like a scrapbook than a notebook. You can add spreadsheets and word processing files from your Zoho folders. Even more fun is Zoho's capacity to hold songs and video--as well as Web pages and RSS feeds--from a hard drive or from around the Internet.

Zoho Notebook collects files and feeds into a tidy interface.
Zoho Notebook collects files and feeds into a tidy interface.

The capability to share your stuff with other people makes Notebook a potentially cool tool for group projects at school or work. Chatting with other users in addition to recording and playing audio and video could flesh out the experience. Overall, Zoho Notebook was pretty speedy in my tests using Firefox; I didn't bump into as many delays as I have with Flash-enabled features elsewhere. I like the clean interface, which is way friendlier than a wiki and makes exploring features a cinch. Adding an RSS feed brought up a useful, resizable window that could be pinned into place, shared, or commented upon. Other inserted content appears in this widget-like way.

But inserting content was a hassle more than a few times. Adding a URL brought up a window labeled "Add SRC," which wasn't self-explanatory. When I typed the New York Times' URL into that field, suddenly Zoho vanished and took me to the Gray Lady's domain. The next time I added a URL, however, Zoho Notebook did what it's supposed to do by embedding that Web page within my Zoho book. Once I added, I could click around the site without leaving Zoho. Unfortunately,when I wanted to keep an article, Zoho said the page contained no data and didn't let me save it.

Inserting videos wasn't snappy.
Inserting videos wasn't snappy.

Hitting the Back button took me to a blank Zoho Notebook rather than the one I had just filled with content. And later, once I had a full Notebook again and then refreshed my browser, Zoho maddeningly cleared my content and took me to a blank slate. Zoho had already saved most--not all--of my work, which wasn't apparent initially.

What good is a notebook if you need to be online to use it, and if it makes your notes disappear? For projects that I'd need to access from, say, a rural summer cottage, connectivity concerns make Microsoft OneNote software more appealing than Zoho Notebook or any Web-based competitor such as the bare-bones Google Notebook (see more). If you only need to access a light amount of news and tools stored online, then a home page service like Netvibes could be just as useful. Zoho Notebook still has its purpose, and for digital research, it handles a wider breadth of content than bookmarking services such Clipmarks (read more).

Nevertheless, I'm still waiting for some puddleproof, shock-absorbent, crash-free, electronic-paper gadget that will make it possible to keep a digital notebook or scrapbook in my pocket. But if Zoho smooths Notebook's wrinkles, I'd check it out again and consider using it to plan something fun with friends around the country, like a mojito-soaked beach reunion on some crystalline coast.