Zoho takes hosted office apps offline

Web-based word processor Zoho Writer becomes available as a Google Gears offline application, before Google fully implements the technology itself

The online word processor Zoho Writer has been made available as an offline application, making use of Google technology that Google itself has yet to implement in the office space.

In May the search giant released the source code for Google Gears, a browser plug-in that lets web-based applications run offline. Google open sourced the project with the aim of creating an industry standard, but analysts saw the move as a way to make its office applications, like Google Docs & Spreadsheets, more competitive against Microsoft Office.

However, Google Docs & Spreadsheets is yet to take advantage of Gears, and it seems that Zoho has now beaten Google to market in the field of online/offline office applications.

"Originally, we had been working on our own platform for enabling offline web applications," said Zoho's Raju Vegesna. "Now, supporting Google Gears makes more sense because Google made it an open source project, so we can contribute to the technology when appropriate. In that regard, Google deserves a lot of credit for making it possible to take web applications offline."

Full offline functionality has not yet been enabled for Zoho Writer — the application currently gives users read-only access to their documents while not surfing the web — but read/write functionality is imminent. The company is also promising offline functionality soon for its other office applications, which include spreadsheet, calendar, presentation, collaboration and CRM tools.

"When our customers ask for new features, we do our best to implement them as quickly as possible," said Vegesna. "For Zoho Writer, we added support for nine languages last week, comments and offline support this week, and yet another significant new feature will be added next week."

Hosted applications are a growing market — largely because of Google's efforts — because they offer a high degree of collaboration and let users work on documents from any internet-enabled location.

Microsoft is working on its own "Cloud"-based portfolio of online applications. However, critics point out that a failed internet connection would make such applications unusable — a problem that is now being tackled through projects like Google Gears.