Zoho In The News

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Christian Harris at ZDNet reviewed Zoho Show 2.0 recently. From his review,

Zoho Show is a straightforward to use thanks to its pre-built themes, clipart and shapes, coupled with handy features like drag-and-drop. In fact, anyone familiar with using the web should be able to put together a decent-looking presentation in just a few minutes. And, of course, you can access your presentation from any computer, so long as it’s connected to the internet.

Version 2.0 of Zoho Show has a number of enhancements — most noticeably the new user interface, which has been completely redesigned. The UI is now less cluttered and more intuitive to navigate, and the floating toolbars are a real boon. Support for themes has been improved too, and the application now has over 50 default themes to get you started.

Zoho Show 2.0 integrates much better with Zoho Meeting, an online desktop sharing tool from the same stable. The major benefit here is that you can now quickly and easily switch between applications to share your desktop with the participants viewing your presentation. And Zoho Chat allows you to chat with your audience during remote presentations.

Chris gave 7.5 out of 10 for Zoho Show 2.0. Zoho Invoice which we released a couple of weeks ago has got a very good welcome from small & medium businesses. Peter Piazza writes about the release at CIO.com in an article titled, ‘Zoho Challenges Business App Industry Heavyweights‘ :

Web 2.0 company Zoho has announced the launch of the latest product in its suite of online freeware and payware applications. Zoho Invoice gives users the ability to create everything from estimates to invoices in multiple currencies.

Zoho Invoice is integrated with PayPal, so invoices can be generated and sent to customers, who can then make payments directly through PayPal. The company plans on adding more payment gateways. The application is free for sending up to five invoices per month; four monthly subscription versions range from $5 to $35 and allow from 25 to 1,500 invoices to be sent each month.

Mozilla’s Firefox 3.0 release is being anticipated much by all. And it was our pleasure seeing the Release Notes for Firefox 3 Beta 5 mention Zoho in it!

[Improved in Beta 5!]  Speed: improvements to our JavaScript engine as well as profile guided optimizations have resulted in continued improvements in performance. Compared to Firefox 2, web applications like Google Mail and Zoho Office run twice as fast in Firefox 3 Beta 5, and the popular SunSpider test from Apple shows improvements over previous releases.

Zoho Creator : Handy Tool for Organizing Events, Collecting Data

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Paul McMahon is organising a conference for international school teachers. And he posted his query in a Classroom 2.0 forum, wanting to know about a tool that allowed for staff to self-register for workshops.

I am busily organising a conference (a first in Hong Kong) for international school teachers. I am using eventbrite, a great online tool for conference registration but my next major task is allowing teachers to assign themselves to workshops once I have the programme up. (Yes we spell it that way in Hong Kong too :-)

I am wondering if anyone out there has run a confernce or PD day and allowed for staff to self-register for workshops from a list on during a time period. It would be great if the tool also allowed the teacher to see if a workshop was already quite full. Maybe I could assign a max number and they could see say 20/25 for the workshop.

As I am already losing a bit on the other online tools (Eventbrite and Paypal), it would be good if it was free or very minimal cost. (Yes! I want it all for nothing! Typical of an opportunist Aussie Teacher :-)

And Paul’s query got the answer from James Dykstra.

We are doing the registration for our regional Heritage Fair using Zoho Creator (creator.zoho.com). Our form (embedded here: #) gets the users to fill in all the information we choose and then puts it into a spreadsheet for us. Creator has database functions that I haven’t attempted to use, but they would likely allow you to do the fancier parts of your registration process, including setting limits for certain workshops. Everything on Zoho is available for free. Though we’ve only given it a limited trial (so far about 50 students are registered), I’m quite pleased with the results so far.

Thanks to James for suggesting Zoho Creator! And one more example of Zoho Creator in action : Bryan at CollegeMediaInnovation.org posts about using Zoho Creator to create a list of multimedia projects from various student journalists. The submission form used by Bryan & the data he’d collected. He has also compiled a list of schools doing video as well. Thanks Bryan, for using Zoho Creator!

If you are to organize an event or collect data, take a look at the examples above. And don’t forget to tell us how you are using Zoho Creator in the comments.

UPDATE :

1) Got this tweet from Suzie Vesper of New Zealand. She’s done a couple of nice screencasts on Zoho Creator to act as easy tutorials. 1) Creating a form and 2) embedding it in your blog/website/wiki, downloading the data collected to your computer. The wiki page where she’s embedded the app & the screencast tutorials.

2) Prithwis Mukerjee in the comments points to B-School students using Zoho Creator (in the embedded ‘BlogPostURLs View’, click on each of the URLs & you will see that the students have created Zoho Creator apps & embedding forms in their blog)

Amazon AWS, Google App Engine, Zoho Creator: A Continuum

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As cloud-computing matures, we can see the emergence of various layers of web services, operating at different levels of abstraction, serving different market needs. Take the category of web application creation/hosting, for example.

Consider the EC2 service from AWS: it provides what may be called “virtualized hardware” as a web service. The fundamental virtualized hardware unit is an industry standard x86 server (with specified CPU/RAM/Disk capacity), capable of hosting a Linux binary image. The Linux image can include any kind of program, written in any language available on Linux. The “any kind of program” part is important, as you will see shortly. This provides the most flexibility for a professional programmer, but if your program goes into an infinite loop and occupies 100% of its virtual CPU, AWS will simply let it burn up the CPU-hours – after all, there is no way for them, even in theory, to know if your infinite loop is intentionally coded or a bug.

The second type of service is what Google App Engine announced yesterday. It provides what may be called a “hosted middleware framework”, with the middleware stack having only Python language bindings today, with other language bindings to follow in future. Even when multiple languages are eventually supported, this type of service is quite different from Amazon EC2, because the middleware framework imposes specific constraints on the kind of program that can run on the service. Specifically, Google App Engine service is limited to running what may be called “provably halting programs” (or it will simply be forcibly halted the environment!) – short-running web applications that support the “page oriented computing” model – i.e service a HTTP request with a response and stop. Stand alone programs using multiple threads, such as a web crawler, are not supported. The flexibility lost by the developer comes with a huge benefit. Because of the constraints imposed by the middleware framework, Google can make much stronger guarantees of your application availability than Amazon can – Amazon can guarantee the availability of their virtual CPU, but cannot guarantee your application availability. The service abstraction of App Engine still needs a skilled programmer to create applications, but the effort required is less than what Amazon would need, with the trade-off of a more restrictive programming model.

Finally, Zoho Creator. This provides a service which lets users develop database driven web applications, with the service being accessible to regular users, as opposed to only trained programmers. It starts with a easy-to-use form/view builder interface, and then for more complicated logic, eases the user into the Deluge scripting environment. This scripting environment is intentionally kept very simple, so as to make the system accessible to a large number of users. Much like Google App Engine, Zoho Creator sits on a specific middleware stack, along with its constrained programming model, and its associated benefits/constraints for the application. But rather than exposing the middleware stack as an API only, Zoho Creator provides a higher level of abstraction through a development environment that is accessible to the casual non-programmer – so creating complex views, plugging in validation logic etc. are much simpler.  As an aside, I want to mention that, in principle, it would be possible to layer Zoho Creator on top of Google App Engine  on top of Amazon EC2.

I hope this post has demonstrated how the cloud-services market is increasingly becoming sophisticated with various kinds of tiered services serving different needs. Each type of service brings with it a different abstraction, a different programming model, and of course, its benefits and constraints.

Ning (1.0) Was Too Early

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That was the first thought that crossed my mind as I looked at Google AppEngine. Yeah, there are differences – Ning 1.0 was PHP, AppEngine is Python. You hosted your apps in myapp.ning.com vs myapp.appspot.com. But here is the most important difference of all: Ning was too early, and it was, well, Ning, as opposed to Google. Ning smartly realized that early too, so Ning 2.0 moved to a new sexy model of “Build Your Own Social Network”, but I believe the heart of their Ning 1.0 system is still in there, carefully tucked away so as not to scare the average social networker with query languages and such.

Here is my reaction to AppEngine: I asked our engineers to brush up on their Python. Fortunately, we have experience in it – a lot of our test automation scripts are Python based. I think AppEngine is going to be monstrously successful. And we at Zoho are going to embrace it whereever we can, just as we are already playing with Amazon AWS.

Fundamentally, we are a software company. We don’t compete against Google because of our infrastructure advantage over them, that’s for sure. Initiatives like Amazon AWS and Google AppEngine let us be a software company again – and that is a good thing! So here we come, Python … and to Ning, here is someone who remembered your original innovation. Thank you!

Integration between Zoho Apps

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Apart from rolling out new applications and improving the existing ones, one of the focus for Zoho is integration between applications. In this post, I want to highlight some of my favorite integrations we have already done between Zoho Apps.

Zoho Sheet integration into Zoho CRM

Database based applications like Zoho CRM are primarily form based which make them not-so-easy for simultaneous editing. Lets take a simple example of editing multiple contacts. In form based apps like CRM, you have to open individual contact, edit them and save them. On the other hand, a spreadsheet interface provides a very easy way to edit content. By integration Zoho Sheet into Zoho CRM, we have married the power of relational database back-end with the ease of editing the content in a spreadsheet.

The in Zoho CRM lets you edit multiple contacts in a spreadsheet view and save them to the relational database in Zoho CRM. This certainly is an interesting and unique integration for Zoho.

Zoho Writer & Sheet integration in Zoho Projects

Maintaining all the documents related to your project in your project management application is a no-brainer. If you also have the ability to create documents inside your project management app, it is an added bonus. Zoho Writer & Sheet integration into Zoho Projects lets you create documents under the documents section in Zoho Projects.

Zoho Meeting & Chat integration in Zoho Show

One of the unique and powerful features of Zoho Show is the ability to do Remote Presentations where you can make a slide show virtually with multiple attendees from different locations and everyone is on the same page (slide). But then, what if you want to chat with all the attendees? We have Zoho Chat integrated for this reason. What if you had to share your desktop to all the attendees? Well, we have integrated Zoho Meeting as well for this purpose. With this combination, the Remote capabilities in Zoho Show makes it a free web conferencing solution.

 

Zoho Creator integration in Zoho People

Recently released HR Management application Zoho People is all about customization as each business has its own way of doing things. For this reason Zoho Creator has been adopted for customization of all forms in Zoho People.

Zoho Projects integration into Zoho Invoice

Our recently released Zoho Invoice lets you create invoices for the time you spent on your projects managed from Zoho Projects.

 

Zoho Writer, Sheet & Show integration into Zoho Notebook

Zoho Notebook is a content creation and aggregation tool. To help you aggregate different type of content (including documents), we have integrated Zoho Writer, Sheet & Show documents inside your Notebook pages. You can create a Writer Page or a Sheet page in Notebook where one page in notebook can act as a word processor or a spreadsheet. You can also add Writer, Sheet & Show documents to your Notebook pages.

Zoho Writer, Sheet & Show Integration into Zoho Wiki

Similar to the Notebook integration, it makes perfect sense for your content to exist at a single place like Wiki. We have integrated Zoho Writer, Sheet & Show into Zoho Wiki.

You may not be aware that Zoho Wiki is infact built on top of Zoho Writer. This means our Wiki inherits most of the capabilities of our word processor.

 

Zoho Chat integration with Writer, Sheet, Show, Notebook, Meeting etc

Zoho Chat is the common bus that runs across many Zoho Apps enabling collaborative editing in applications like Writer, Sheet, Notebook etc. It lets you chat with other users while collaborating on a document/spreadsheet/Notebook. In fact, as long as you are logged into Zoho, Chat lets you communicate with others users no matter which Zoho Apps you are on. Currently Zoho Chat is integrated into Zoho Writer, Sheet, Show, Notebook & Meeting.

 

There are other similar integrations, but you get the idea. You’ll probably notice a theme here. Productivity applications can be integrated with other productivity apps to make them more useful (last three integrations). Also, productivity apps can also be integrated with Business Apps to create unique and useful workflows (first five integrations). Going forward, you’ll see us rolling out more interesting integrations. The marriage between productivity apps and business apps is inevitable.

Would you like to see any specific integration in Zoho? We’d love to hear your feedback.

The Washington Post & Telegraph on Zoho

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Telegraph, UK has come up with ‘The 101 most useful websites‘, ranging from Technology to Travel. And Zoho is listed high up at Number 5! Telegraph describes Zoho as,

A suite of free business programs. From word processing and presentation software to tools for taking notes in meetings, planning projects and creating databases.

And ‘The Washington Post’ carries today PCWorld Erik Larkin’s article on the recently released Zoho Invoice. From the article, ‘Zoho Adds Invoicing to its Online Suite

If you run your own business, you no doubt have the same love/hate relationship with invoices that I do. Love them, because they put money in your pocket. Hate them, because they can be a pain in the derriere.

Zoho’s brand-new Invoice service tries to salve some of that pain with an online system for creating, sending and tracking invoices. After spending some time with it just now, I can see it being a decided improvement over my current spreadsheet and Word doc collection.

It’s not hard to create and send invoices, especially when you don’t send that many of them each month, and frankly my manual spreadsheet-and-doc system suffices there. But Zoho’s system makes for easy tracking as well, with available reports on all your paid and pending invoices for today, as well as this week, month, quarter and year. You can also check on sales by customer, invoices by date, tax reports and other records.

Some other nice features such as an optional link to pay an invoice with a Paypal link to your account, exporting invoices as a pdf, and options for creating recurring invoices mean that I’ll be spending more time with this new service to see if it suits my needs.

Thanks to Telegraph and Erik Larkin, PC World & The Washington Post!

Standardization & Maturity of Online Suites

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Google announced the availability of offline functionality in Google Docs today. Just as we announced a few months ago with Zoho Writer, initially the functionality will be available with the word processor. Both Google Docs and Zoho offline functionality is based on Google Gears, an open source initiative from Google.

The offline feature illustrates a couple of the trends going on in online suites worth pointing out: first,  standardization of common functionality, arising from openness,  second, the speed with which online application suites are maturing.

Nine months ago, we were working on offline functionality for Zoho, based on an internally developed technology. Then Google announced the Gears open source initiative, and we made the decision to standardize on the Gears framework. For us, it was an easy decision, because a browser plug-in is not an area where we want to differentiate, and not an area where we believe customers would appreciate such differentiation. It simply raises the burden on users for them to have to use one plug-in for Google and another for Zoho, and a plug-in from Google is far more likely to be adopted on a larger scale, quicker. Google made the right decision to open source this technology, so that the entire ecosystem can rally around a common standard for offline functionality. We are proud to be early adopters of this technology. We differentiate Zoho on features & functions that add real value to users, rather than on framework/infrastructure level issues, like which plug-in to use for the offline edition.

Second, Google’s announcement today illustrates the rapid progress being made in online applications, and how quickly they are emerging as viable competitors to the traditional desktop suites. At Zoho, we are doing a steady stream of updates ourselves, like the mobile offline edition we announced a couple of months ago. It is sometimes hard to believe that the entire space is just over 2 years old, considering how far things have come. This pace will continue, even intensify, over the next few months. Users are going to be big winners of all this competition!