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Zoho upgrades instant messaging service

It's no replacement for Meebo, but it does integrate nicely with Zoho's other apps

Zoho has added some features to its instant messaging client, Zoho Chat, and dubbed it version 2.0. It remains a decent but unspectacular Web-based IM client, but it has a nice business slant to it, and it integrates well into Zoho's suite of business apps.

As an IM client, Zoho Chat does not compare favorably to Meebo. It supports fewer networks. While the bases are covered -- Zoho supports Yahoo, AIM, MSN, ICQ, Google, and Jabber -- Meebo supports those six networks as well as Facebook, MySpace, Flixster, and server other consumer IM networks. Meebo also does a pretty good imitation of a desktop IM client: It lets you pop your buddy list out of the standard browser frame and into a standalone vertical list, much like a typical software app. Zoho doesn't have this feature.

Zoho Chat: It's no Meebo, but that's probably fine if you have a real job. Screenshot by Rafe Needleman/CNET

However, where Meebo has fun extra chat-based services, like public "rooms," where you can chat up people who share you astrological sign, Zoho offers instead three business-focused chat services: A support box, a personal live chat widget, and free-for-all "shoutbox." Each of these is designed for different community and communication business needs. The Live Support box can connect Web visitors with any one from a list of users in your company that you designate, for example, and the shoutbox might be a good option if you want to give your customers a place to talk to each other on your site.

You can, of course, bend Meebo to the needs of business. I've done so in the past: When Firefox d.0 shipped, I set up a shoutbox-type room for people to talk about their experiences. Zoho's focus on business uses, though, makes the service easier to navigate when that's your mindset.

Zoho is calling Chat the "common bus that runs across most of the Zoho applications." That means, in part, that you can get alerted when someone is trying to reach you when you're in the Zoho word processor, even if you don't have Zoho Chat open. Of course, you could get the same thing with a standalone desktop IM client.

But the service integrates in other ways with other Zoho apps. For example, you can start a Zoho Meeting screen-sharing session within Zoho Chat, and Zoho has thrown the natural-language entry field of its calendar into a corner of the Chat inteface.

Zoho Chat is functional. It is a solid addition to the Zoho business suite, even if it is not a compelling Web IM app on its own.