Zoho spiffs up its 2.0 version of Writer

The vast Zoho online applications suite is on the march to tab heaven, and the word processor is leading the pack. Version 2.0 of Zoho Writer, unveiled Thursday, throws over its previous chock-full-o'-icons interface for a menu-and-tabs look that's eventually be integrated into all of Zoho's offerings.

Those familiar with previous versions of Zoho Writer are apt to remember the three-row-deep mass of icons at the top of the browser, and may also call some of the more oblique commands in the menus (Name-Name, anyone?). That's gone. The icon stack is replaced by six tab-shaped buttons in the toolbar, each of which clicks into a well-organized menu of choices. At the bottom of the screen, at last, word and character counts join the usual authoring and page count information.

The sidebar, which keeps files and folders organized, has also been reworked and now lists documents, shared docs, tag folders, templates, search and the contents of the trash can. The sidebar allows the user to perform some basic file-management activities (delete, rename, share, export) without actually opening the document, and The assortment of changes Writer's layout into accord with that of Zoho Sheet, the spreadsheet app.

Our preliminary tests were extremely positive. File import was smooth, with HTML, .doc, .docx, Open Office, .odt, .rtf, and .txt formats supported. The editing process was unremarkable, and we found that not trying to decipher the differences among dozens of tiny icons made the day much more pleasant. And special thanks goes to whomever decided that the old-style color picker needed to go; the new one is much easier to use, though it leads to unfortunate side effects such as olive-green memos. (That's not Zoho's fault; problem exists between keyboard and chair. One must enjoy one's testing time after all.)

The interface rethink also gives Zoho the chance to bring a bit of order and family resemblance to its sprawling family of apps -- 14, at last count. Zoho's got an app for nearly every purpose, but those apps have suffered in comparison to others simply because their interfaces didn't mesh well. Zoho head Raju Vegesna, who noted Thursday that refining the user experience is "the thing that takes up most of your time," said that the "MenuTab" interface will eventually be rolled out across all applications, with Zohos Show and Sheet next on the company checklist. Those changes should roll out in second quarter, as will support for Safari and Chrome users.

A kind word, by the way, for Zoho Show, the presentation application. Or three words, actually: It just works. Vegesna gave his entire presentation in Show, including a chat sidebar, and the experience was notable for being absolutely not noteworthy -- nothing crashed and everything worked. That's the sort of thing you want to expect from your applications suites, but with so much positive change afoot in Zoho Writer, it's nice to remember that beauty in this apps suite isn't just skin-deep.

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