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Innovation

Zoho becomes the latest Microsoft rival to port to Windows 8.1

Microsoft is getting some companies once considered rivals to port their apps to Windows 8 and/or Azure. Here's how Zoho and Microsoft ended up teaming.
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Over the past few months, a number of Microsoft rivals have been porting their software to Windows 8 and/or Microsoft's Azure cloud. Oracle, SAP, Salesforce -- it's a growing and somewhat surprising list.

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On June 3, Zoho became the latest to join the crowd, making available its Zoho Books accounting app for Windows 8.1 and Windows RT. The new app is free (but requires Zoho's paid cloud services) and available for download from the Windows Store as of today, June 3. Zoho already has a Windows Phone version of Zoho Books, which has been available for download from the Windows Phone Store since January 2014.

The most interesting part of the Zoho announcement to me is how and why the company ended up doing a Metro-Style/Windows Store version of one of its core apps.

Zoho has been building cloud apps since 2004. Its focus is particularly on small/mid-size business users. The company has more than 10 million users of its collaboration, email and other office apps, Zoho officials say.

"On paper, we look fairly competitive with Microsoft," said Zoho President Raj Sabhlok. But Microsoft is increasingly open to "customer-driven partnerships," he said.

A large number of Zoho's customers and partners use Microsoft platforms like Windows and Windows Phone, Sabhlok noted. "We are meeting our customers where they are at."

That message is quite similar to what Salesforce and Microsoft execs said last week in announcing their own partnership.

Sabhlok said that Zoho was approached by Microsoft a little less than a year ago about bringing its apps to Windows 8.

"They committed some development and marketing resources and we committed some resources," Sabhlok said.

Just a couple of years ago, that statement would have been considered treasonous by some Microsoft officials who were adamant about not paying developers -- or at least not admitting to paying them -- to write Metro-Style/Windows Store apps.

"We've seen a night and day difference" in how Microsoft is approaching and working with us, Sabhlok said. "Directionally, it's less about protecting the Microsoft operating system and being about the customer."

Sabhlok said bringing Zoho Books to Windows 8 took about four months, including starts and stops. Zoho Books will be just the first of a number of Zoho apps to come to Microsoft's platforms, he said.

"This is a business decision for us," Sabhlok said. "Let's go where the customer is going."

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