Monday, June 19, 2006

Interview with Product Manager of Zoho Sheet

As you all aware, Google has released the beta version of “Google Spreadsheet” few days back. Only then through Rajendran [My ex-CTO and a good friend of mine] I came to know about Zoho Sheet. As I have said before, to know that a Chennai based company has developed something AHEAD of GOOGLE is not a small achievement.

First of all, I really love the concept of sharing the spreadsheet with others. This might help people use this as a collaborative tool! But there are lots of doubts coming up in my mind when I think about "Spreadsheet over the web". So thought I would get it clarified from the people who have conceptualized, designed and developed it.

Here is the interview with Hyther Nizam who is the Director of Product management for Zoho Services at AdventNet, and Product Manager of Zoho Sheet and Zoho Creator.

Let’s get started …

[Vadivel]: To start with, can you explain what the need of Zoho Sheet is? It would be great if you could give me few real-time examples on where could we use this?

[Hyther]: Excel is one of my favorite software which is perfectly designed for its intended purpose and users. But it’s not friendly now for internet population who want to consume lot of data from internet into their spreadsheets. Sharing is pain. Not collaboration friendly. You cannot share it online with your friends, colleagues and clients. You might be sending it now as back and forth email attachments which has its own version problems. Not to say on the ridiculous pricing of M$ office package.

Zoho Sheet is an affordable online alternative to such traditional spreadsheets riding on the advantage of web. Zoho Sheet can be used by individuals for tracking personal data or enterprises maintaining their business data.

[Vadivel]: I know Zoho is now in its beta. When do you think the final product be made public? Is there any specific time frame you have in mind?

[Hyther]: Currently we are busy working on the features to make Zoho Sheet usable for serious users. We would remove the beta tag once we feel we are ready for enterprise users, probably by next 3 months or so.

[Vadivel]: I didn't find any help file for this product. Am I missing something? (Is there a help file for this product?)

[Hyther]: Currently we are busy churning out code to bring out features quickly. That doesn't mean help file is not important, we would add it for public release

[Vadivel]: Let’s assume that I save my business content using Zoho sheet, where would my content get stored? In database or flat file?

[Hyther]: Both. We have designed the system for best performance. We leverage file system where we need fast I/O and database for maintaining relational constraints.


[Vadivel]: Is the content encrypted?

[Hyther]: As of now, no. This is one of the important features which we will add before we get out of beta. However, currently, we have secured file system for user’s data with support for disaster recovery.

[Vadivel]: Bottom-line is, how safe would my content be? For ex: Once Zoho sheet becomes live and if some serious business user makes use of this. Can the system admin of Zoho be in a position to view their content?

[Hyther]: User data would be encrypted and stored based on the user's credentials, making it absolutely impossible even for Zoho administrator to view the content.

[Vadivel]: If at all I could ask, what technology have you used to develop this Zoho sheet?
[Hyther]: Java, AJAX

[Vadivel]: Is there any specific reason for choosing this technology?

[Hyther]: AJAX brings cooler user experience on the web, they call it web 2.0. Java enables fast development with lot of libraries around it

[Vadivel]: I know AdventNet is a product based company. That said, from zoho.com I understand that you give away "Zoho Writer", "Zoho Planner" and "Zoho Chat" all for free!! In that line, can people expect Zoho Sheet also be given free of cost? If yes, what is the business model of AdventNet?

[Hyther]: Even after beta, Zoho Sheet would remain to have free edition for personal users. We feel we could make money from enterprises with disruptive pricing making Zoho compelling for enterprises, and of course, with cool web services which can solve real problems.

[Vadivel]: When you thought about Zoho Sheet, where you guys aware that Google Spreadsheet is going to be released sometime soon?

[Hyther]: We expected it. Everyone knows Google is taking on M$ and would come up with online office package. With writely acquisition for word processing, natural next step would be spreadsheets.

[Vadivel]: Do you think Google spreadsheet would be a threat to you? If not, in what way you think zoho sheet is a unique product by itself.

[Hyther]: Google is not threat to us. In one of my blog post, I have explained our stand with respect to Google spreadsheets. We would focus more on enterprise market and small groups of business users. This is going to be a marathon and we are well prepared for it.

[Vadivel]: Where do you think Zoho Sheet or for that matter Zoho go from here in next 5 years from now?

[Hyther]: Five years is too long time in this web 2.0 world. Our end-of-this-year goal is to bring out compelling online office suite - Zoho Writer (online word processor), Zoho Sheet (online spreadsheets), Zoho Virtual Office (web-based collaboration groupware) , Zoho Show (online presentation creator and remote sharing, coming soon!)

[Vadivel]: Why do you think people would make their sheet public? I couldn't think of a single reason for people making their content public!

[Hyther]: Yes, they would not share personal or business spreadsheets to public. But they could create common spreadsheets like FIFA World Cup, Tax Calculator, etc and contribute to public. (Social spreadsheets).

[Vadivel]: As I said before, I know Zoho Sheet is still in its beta stage. That said, I played with it for 30 mins yesterday and found few bugs. They are:

i) Wrap Text: In a cell which has the default cell width, I typed "alpha beta gamma". Then I clicked on Wrap Text with a hope that it would wrap this sentence to the size of the cell. But to my surprise the row was hidden. Am I missing something? I am not too sure whether this is the way it was designed to work? To me this is a bug as the button reads "Wrap Text" and not "Hide text".

[Hyther]: I tried out; it works on latest versions of Mozilla, Firefox. However seems to be an issue in IE. We will fix it.

ii) Font Color: I selected the cell where I have entered a formula. FYI, the actual formula which I tried is =(2*2)/4. The formula was correctly calculated and the result was displayed without any issues. Then i clicked on Font Color (A) from the tool bar and choosed Blue color. Though the color of the cell changed to blue now it started displaying the formula as it is with blue color. But the expected result is "the cell should have the result of the forumla in blue color"

When I tried the same thing after sometime it worked properly. Though the error isn't reproducable I am sure there is an issue with this :) So its better the dev team start looking into this also.

[Hyther]: Your observation is right, currently it behaves this way. Seems to be minor issue, we will correct it.

iii) Preview: When i clicked on preview button, its throwing the following error.

Error occured
Unable to Export the Document
<>

[Hyther]: Preview is nothing but html export, that’s why the message says unable to export. I agree this is not an intuitive message. We need to look at that particular sheet and check why it was unable to export. Probably a bug.

[Vadivel]: How does it feel to get bug reports like this from end-user? :)
[Hyther]: We knew how painful it is for the end users. We are striving hard to fix such obvious issues. Now you know the reason for beta tag :-)

[Vadivel]: Thanks a lot Hyther for taking pain in answering my questions and clearing some basic doubts on Zoho sheet. Hope the readers would have also enjoy reading this!

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16 comments:

Prathiba said...

Hi Vadivel,

Very intresting read. How do you find time to post two ( or more ) posts on a single day? Amazing :)

Waiting for Zoho to be made public. But still confused as to how it works. Might understand better when i have the hands-on experience.. :)

Vadivel said...

Its approx 12:15 am :) now you know when I read stuffs / post content into my blogs.

Prathiba said...

hi Vadivel,

Surprised to see the instant reply. :0 By the way, the double click to find any ,eaning in the dictionary is cool.. Ennoda bloglayum idhu madiri seiyanum pola irukku :)

Vadivel said...

Yeah it would be good to have in a blog. That might help ppl to chk the dictionary then and there if they have any trouble understanding our englipeeesh :)

Vasudevan Deepak Kumar said...

Vadivel,

I appreciate the stand of other third party providers competing give office automation software and desktop applications like Word, Excel etc.

There is nothing to offend but a frank opinion.

But the only problem I see whether it is AdventNet of Velacherry, Chennai or Sun Microsystems of California, the only thing is that Microsoft Office is committed to bring greatest user-experience and plethora of features, blended with 10 versions of experience from Redmond.

StarOffice and OpenOffice from Sun Microsystems could not that directly compete with Microsoft Office in that the usability itself would not be that appealing. I guess, they scale up to nonWindows, albeit the fact that Office products are tied to Windows but there is an answer to this too.

Most of the Microsoft Office applications run with full vigor in Unix, thanks to the opensource development efforts of Wine. Check out Wine developmemt at Wine HQ. Wine is WINdows Emulator.

Vadivel said...

Yep I have seen Wine HQ previously.

I guess Zoho is competing with

1. WikiCalc -- http://www.socialtext.com/products/tour

2. EditGrid -- http://www.editgrid.com

3. IRows -- http://www.irows.com or

4. Google Spreadsheets
(those are web based sheets) than MS excel.

Prem said...

vadivel, realy it is great as chennalities peoples are working comparitivily with GOOGLE. !!!. Appuram antha Dictionary matter eppadi panarathu... in my blog(http:\\premsiv.blogspot.com)

Vadivel said...

Prem, you might want to check out http://www.thefreedictionary.com/lookup.htm#script (for example).

Srini said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Srini said...

Nice interview Vadivel :) It's amazing to know a Chennai based company is working on line with some of Google's vision. BTW, just got a reply from Google with access to their 'Limited Test' Spreadsheet. Will take some time to play on both of these and hopefully will try my first review soon !!

Also how is Excel 2007 ?

Vadivel said...

huh good question "how is excel 2007?". Its there installed in my laptop for quite sometime ... but haven't checked it yet :) Lemme chk it tonight and then let u know.

chandramohan said...

hi vadivel,
a cool interview...
well framed questions!!

Anonymous said...

How will they guarantee that data in spreadsheet will Not be compromised to others as this might contain sensitive data.

Varalakshmi said...

Very nice interview Vadivel!!!
Thanks for sharing it with others!

Sudar said...

Hi Vadivel,

Very nice interview. You have framed the questions very well.

When I first came to know that all products of Zoho were created entirely in Chennai I was very surprised but at the same time very happy to know that a product from Chennai is competing with Google. That’s a nice feeling for a chennaist right?

Cheers,
Sudar

Vadivel said...

Thanks sudar. Also let me thank u for dropping by.

Oh yes .. its a real great feeling.