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Zoho Bypasses Microsoft Office With SharePoint Integration

Zoho Office for Microsoft SharePoint is now available, company officials announced this week.

It's the latest online productivity suite offering from Boston- and Pleasanton, Calif.-based software-as-a-service provider Zoho.

Zoho's solution provides Office-like applications via the Internet cloud, with application programming interface (API) hooks into Microsoft's SharePoint Server product. Users can store documents and collaborate in real time through SharePoint. The app saves money that otherwise might be spent on Microsoft Office licensing, according to a Zoho company statement.

The offering suggests potential turmoil for Microsoft as competition heats up in a "Software plus Services" world. Software plus Services is Microsoft's term for describing IT's use of both hosted and installed software.

Big money is on the line, too, according to Guy Creese, vice president and research director at the Burton Group.

"Enterprise businesses are spending huge amounts on Microsoft Office licensing and document sharing in general," Creese said. "Online collaboration using Office-like applications represents a major change in the software business model. The big question is, Will Microsoft adjust to this with a more economic suite of online Office applications in Office 2010?"

Office 2010 is scheduled for release to manufacturing in the first half of next year. Microsoft is projecting some sort of licensing change as well.

"We will announce new delivery and licensing models to help reduce costs and improve deployment and management options for IT professionals, including on-premise or cloud deployment options," a recent Microsoft blog post explained regarding Office 2010.

Zoho Office for Microsoft SharePoint sits atop SharePoint Server as an add-on, and requires no client software other than a browser. Access to Microsoft's API documentation may be making this sort of integration possible.

Microsoft released documentation for many of its APIs last year after years of government antitrust oversight. A number of software-as-a-service providers -- such as Alfresco, Think Free and even Google -- have since leveraged those APIs to integrate with Microsoft's software.

Customers get better integrated solutions as a result, but Microsoft could lose some market share.

"Office has been the gold standard for business computing and SharePoint is a very successful product for Microsoft," Creese said. "The gaining popularity of offerings such as Zoho's, that work with Microsoft systems, probably means better sales for SharePoint, but will Microsoft be happy with just a slice of the pie as opposed to the whole pie?"

Creese said it was the superior functionality and widespread acceptance of Microsoft Office that made the difference with SharePoint. He noted that today, businesses are taking a hard look at the bottom line for IT. Alternatives that offer an open platform and less functionality are becoming more popular.

"It's a very different world," he said. "Four years ago, if you would have stood up in a room and said Microsoft Office will be replaced, people would have thought you were crazy. That's no longer true."

About the Author

Herb Torrens is an award-winning freelance writer based in Southern California. He managed the MCSP program for a leading computer telephony integrator for more than five years and has worked with numerous solution providers including HP/Compaq, Nortel, and Microsoft in all forms of media.

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