Zoho really wants people to try out their applications. They have opened the doors to users with Google and Yahoo accounts to access Zoho applications without having to create a new username/password. Is this Zoho's step towards the OpenID? Or a ploy to steal Google Apps users away?
Letting Google and Yahoo in the Door
Zoho has created a unified login for users who have Google and Yahoo accounts. This capability is due to the single sign functionality Zoho has built around it's applications. The decision to open the doors was partly due to a LifeHacker Poll that asked people what they preferred, Google Apps or Zoho Apps. The results showed that many people chose Google not because they thought it was better than Zoho, but because they were too lazy to create another user account.
So what does Zoho do with this information? They offer Google users the chance to try out their applications without having to create a new username password combo. The same goes for Yahoo users. It's important to note that Zoho does not store your Google/Yahoo password, only your email address.
“In several polls and reviews, we noticed that users prefer our applications to online alternatives,” said Raju Vegesna, Zoho evangelist. “For Google and Yahoo! users who are curious about Zoho but don’t want to set up another account, we’ve removed that hurdle. Users don’t have to create a Zoho account to use Zoho applications. We want to make it as easy as possible for everyone to try our online apps.”
You can, at any time, disconnect these ids from your Zoho account.
But You Still Need a Zoho Username
Yes, according to the documentation and fancy flow diagrams, you do still have to have a Zoho username. They have to know who you are somehow don't they?
If you already have a Zoho account, you can associate your Google or Yahoo id with it and start using that from now on. If you don't currently have a Zoho account, the first time you try to log in using a Google or Yahoo id, you will be asked to create one. The Zoho username is then automatically associated with your Google/Yahoo id.
Sharing Contacts and Documents
This new functionality also allows you to do two things:
# Import Contacts: You can import your contacts from Google or Yahoo into Zoho. This is not a real-time connection, but a one time import. So it looks like each time you update a contact in Google or Yahoo, you will have to import those contacts again into Zoho.
# Share Zoho Documents: Note the key word here: Zoho. You cannot share documents across Google Docs and Zoho, and you can't open Zoho documents in Google Docs. What you can do is invite Google and Yahoo users to view and collaborate on shared Zoho documents. Of course, they will need to log in first.
A Smart Move - but Not OpenID
While Zoho evangelist Raju Vegesna is honest enough to say this move is an attempt to get more people to use their application, it is not based on OpenID.
Michael Arrington of TechCrunch asked Vegesna why they didn't use OpenID to handle authentications, who said "they will, soon, but also want to integrate directly with the most requested third parties to address users immediate needs (and it is still a pain to log in with OpenID). Vegesna also says they may integrate directly with other third parties, such as Microsoft and Facebook, in the future as well based on user requests."
This may be indeed be a very smart move for Zoho, especially if their applications are richer in capabilities then Google. And as for OpenID: sounds like it will come in time.