Zoho Leverages Google Gears to Provide Offline Support for Ajax Applications
To Zoho, as Raju stated, the reason going offline is very simple:
We believe there are ten percent of online users would like to continue their works when they are offline. We'd like to support those ten percent of web users.
Then, Raju provided some background information about extending Zoho Writer offline:
Recognizing RIA technologies are enabling the trend of crossing online/offline barriers for web applications, InfoQ.com asked Vegesna what Zoho learned was the best approach for adding offline support:
A phase based incremental approach is very critical to our success. We didn't go all the way offline. In the first phase Zoho Writer was in read only mode when offline. Then we worked on the second phase, which was released recently to enable the offline document editing. In general, Zoho products are server based web applications. Most of the features are from the server side processes. To do it right, carefully designing and incrementally adding features to offline is very important. We wouldn't do it differently.
Zoho is also in the SaaS (software as a service) space where, in addition to end products like Zoho Writer, it's a application development platform via Zoho APIs. On the impacts of going offline to applications developed using Zoho APIs Vegesna replied:
For now, the offline features are disabled as APIs. It means that all third party applications are online only. Even with our Zoho Writer, there are features won't be available offline for now, such as PDF file export. As a web application we focus a great deal on user experience. We don't want to make the product complicated to the user by introducing every feature offline.
On moving forward:
We are committed on using Google Gears. We have two major categories of products, one is file centric apps and another is database centric apps. Zoho Writer is file centric based, and once we've done Zoho Writer, the next thing will be extending other tools in the category to offline. We will go through the same approach on database centric tools such as the CRM product.
In the end, Vegesna gave some insights on their server side environment:
On server side we are a open source shop. We use MySQL to manage the data. The server side processes are all written in Java. The application server is a highly tuned version of Apache Tomcat. We host applications by ourselves on about 400 servers, which are a Linux based 64bit environment.
Zoho, as a office productivity suite tool provider, has been pushing the limit on both user experience and platform development. InfoQ will continue coverage as their platform evolves.