Zoho Writer, an online word processor, now features real time collaborative editing. This means multiple users can work on a Zoho Writer document at the same time. While this may sound like a feature that web-based word processing products should have by default, in reality most of them don't. According to Wikipedia, Google-owned Writely relies on polling (every half a minute or so) and so it doesn't support real-time collaboration. Writeboard, from 37Signals, is also not real-time - it uses web based version control for collaboration.
Some desktop software already do real-time editing, for example SubEthaEdit for the Mac, but I think Zoho is one of the first (if not the first) to achieve it with a web-based product. I'm sure someone will correct me in the comments if I'm wrong ;-)
A few weeks ago I profiled It's a feature that web-based word processing products should have by default, but currently most of them don't. Zoho's presentation app, Zoho Show, which made them the first fully AJAX-based Office suite online. So Zoho are really making a lot of great moves towards a Web Office. But still, some are asking if it's enough to beat the big guns Microsoft and Google. Robert Scoble thinks it'll be very tough, while ExtremeTech asks: Can Zoho's Web 2.0 Office Beat Microsoft? In a thorough review, ExtremeTech gives it a decent wrap for ease-of-use - but recommends ThinkFree's java-powered web office for grunt work. ExtremeTech generally doesn't think web-based apps have enough power, yet, to usurp the likes of Microsoft Office:
"Zoho Office includes good, lightweight applications for editing documents, spreadsheets, and presentations. You won’t find power-user features, however, and there are some missing features and quirky behavior at times. More uniformity among the apps feature sets would be welcome, as well. Even though the suite is free right now, it’s not alone in that camp, with tools from Google, Fly Office, ThinkFree, and more. Still, it’s quick, easy to use, and has nice-looking interfaces that won’t take you long to master for most of its limited feature set."
But Zoho's real-time collaborative editing is certainly good progress. While desktop Office systems still pack the punch needed for productivity, web-based office apps will slowly but surely eat away at that advantage.
Update 2: hmmm, now Zoho is saying that their product "is near real time actually. We too do the poll but it is once in 8 seconds." So much for my post title...