Well not ugly – just not full of Web 2.0 rounded corners et al. I’m talking about Zoho mail, after the announcement the other day that it’s gone offline with Google gears.

I’m an outlier I guess – I use Gmail pretty much exclusively, gave up on the traditional look of email clients (Outlook/Thunderbird et al) years ago and have a natural affinity for the Gmail conversation view and Web 2.0-ness.

That said… I’m also a realist. The fact is that in the real world (which means either business or Ma and Pa ‘pooter users) the feel of the traditional client is what people are used to and understand.

Over a pint of Three Boys Wheat Beer enjoyed immensely at the Twisted Hop in Christchurch the other day, Mike and I discussed just how long change will take to come. Admittedly we weren’t talking about email per se, but more about the general "cloudiness" and what users in the real world would actually do.

All of this was in my thoughts when I got home to read an advance email advising of the release of Zoho mail with offline support. The release itself has been well covered so I’ll not add to that – what does interest me however is the fact that Zoho mail looks kind of "traditional" while Gmail marches to another, more modern (dare I say 2.0?) beat. The offline thing is a given and huge ups to Zoho for beating Google at their own game, using Google’s own tools and having Google even break the news for them!

Mike and I talked about the real world use case – you know the one where non tech-heads want to use something that feels traditional and known. It’s hard not to agree that Zoho fulfills this requirement, it’s a similar situation to the previous discussions about iPayroll – the real world users (ie those who know not about Twitter and who can’t imagine the pain we feel being disconnected for extended periods (go on  – admit it)) want something that they can understand that mould with their workflow and that doesn’t require any sort of cognitive leap. As Zoli said over on his post;

I had to realize that I am NOT the mainstream Zoho customer….   And if it wasn’t clear before, the current crisis brought home the message loud and clear: only businesses with real revenues survive.  Which probably means that for all my yelling and screaming, Zoho is quite right coming out with an email system that meets the needs of businesses who actually pay for it.  After all, this is what enables them to offer all the other apps I like for free.

So yeah – real customers like their products to feel the way they’ve always felt – the challenge for SaaS vendors is to move the traditional look and feel onto a web delivered platform (and to be ready for that mass market paradigm shift if, and when, it comes).

Ben Kepes

Ben Kepes is a technology evangelist, an investor, a commentator and a business adviser. Ben covers the convergence of technology, mobile, ubiquity and agility, all enabled by the Cloud. His areas of interest extend to enterprise software, software integration, financial/accounting software, platforms and infrastructure as well as articulating technology simply for everyday users.


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