Users can save Zoho-created documents and access them offline using other office suites, including Microsoft Office and OpenOffice, but it can be unwieldy to switch back and forth and maintain file formats, Vegesna said. "That's the reason that we're offering a seamless approach with this update."
Last year, AdventNet released a plug-in for Microsoft Office users to allow them to save documents in Microsoft formats more easily.
Several analysts said the Zoho announcement is intriguing.
"I think this is an interesting case of someone beating Google to the punch for once," said Brian Kotlyar, an analyst at Boston-based Yankee Group Research Inc. "We're seeing a fair amount of this, where companies are adding offline capabilities to online applications" to help users stay connected to their documents wherever they are, he said. Not allowing users to access their documents offline is often a major limiting factor with these kinds of applications, and Zoho's upgrade is well timed, he said, adding, "I think this is a good move on their part."
"Connectivity is improving every day, but there are still places where connecting isn't perfect," Kotlyar said.
Dan Kusnetzky, principal analyst at Kusnetzky Group said Zoho's move is particularly important because workers are so mobile today.
"People need to access what they've developed, not only when they are sitting at their desks but when they are in an airplane" or elsewhere, he said. "This has gotten in the way of anyone who has tried to offer an online-only service."
One difficulty with online-based applications, however, is that they can be more complicated to use in concert with regulatory requirements that call for monitoring of document creation, storage and changes, he said.
"I suspect there will be some success because people are obviously looking to do their work at low or no cost," Kusnetzky said, noting that users want alternatives to proprietary offerings like Microsoft Office. "I think they're responding to competitive pressures as well" by adding the offline editing and storage features.
In a Computerworld online comparison of office suites published in January, Zoho's office applications finished second to ThinkFree's suite out of four competitors.