Zoho Turns Two

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On Sep 15 2005, we released our first application Zoho Writer. We cant believe it’s already two years. These have been two exciting and busy years for Zoho with several enhancements and new products. While we continue this journey, we certainly are having fun. That’s the important part right?

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We are very happy about where we are today and confident on the direction we are moving. We are really looking forward to more exciting times ahead. Thank you for all your support during these two years and we look forward to serving you longer.

YouTube class in college?

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TechCrunch has a post on Pitzer College offering a “Learning from YouTube” class. To quote from that post:

Pitzer isn’t known as an intellectual powerhouse among small liberal arts schools (although to be honest I am somewhat biased as I went to a rival school, Claremont McKenna). But this may still be just about the most ridiculous class the school, or any school, has ever offered.

I don’t know about the reputation of Pitzer College. I don’t know the track record of students that graduated there – but I do have a sneaking suspicion that if you were to look 10-20 years out, Pitzer and Claremont McKenna students won’t have dramatically different life outcomes, particularly if you adjust for IQ. So if the kids are enjoying the time they are wasting …

I do remember how I felt when I was in college. I felt bored, really, depressingly bored. I even knew I was wasting most of my time, but didn’t know what else I should be doing. I did well enough academically, but all through it I felt I was going through the motions, not really fully engaged. In perfect hindsight, I realize I should have dropped out and started a business, but that was simply “not done” in India in the 80′s. I remember the feeling of liberation, when I told myself one day when I was 27, “I will mentally renounce my PhD, go back a few years and start from the basics again”.

This time I learned software, no not Computer Science, but practical software, as in hacking code. I started at the bottom of the stack – my first job was to hack assembly code for a living. Then I moved “up” a bit and wrote embedded C code for a switch. It was very helpful to get that close to the metal feeling for code. Fortunately, software (and now the internet) is one business where it absolutely doesn’t matter what your background is -and I was careful never to reveal that I was way “overqualified” for those jobs!

In much the same way, I learned sales and marketing, by actually doing them – making all kinds of “stupid” mistakes but figuring out slowly. I remember a friendly customer advising me once “You guys have great software, but send me another salesman, you don’t know how to sell”. Trust me, there is no better education than that – I say that as someone who has spent far too many years in conventional education.

Over time, I have come to the conclusion that for the vast majority of people, college is actually an expensive (in more ways than one) waste of time. It is not because classes are not taught well – even granting the best teachers with the best of intentions, the whole structure of higher education is ill-suited to the majority of students. The main reason is that most students cannot possibly know why, say, Quantum Physics or Theory of Algorithms is relevant to anything they will face in the real world. That kind of knowledge is very contextual – you better understand Quantum Physics well if you work in semiconductor fabrication, for example, but frankly, only very few of us will ever learn it well just for the sheer intellectual challenge of it.

Not having that kind of meta-knowledge (knowing why something is important), students have to go on faith that what is being taught is important, or the all-too-common practical alternative, fake that faith. We live in a time where asking for such faith from young adults is asking too much.

That is true even in an ideal world where every professor knows his or her stuff, and can teach it well. In the real world, particularly in major brand-name universities, many professors consider teaching to be a price they pay for the privilege of conducting research. Then there are colleges, particularly in a country like India, where teaching is simply no good at all. Pathetic waste of time would be a polite understatement for what passes for education in most colleges in India.

Now, there is value in college, but most of it is the value of connections and networks – the value of meeting like-minded smart people, and so on. My point is that conventional college is a very expensive way to get that value.

So what’s the alternative? Learn by doing. Start getting students into the work-force early – at 18. Give them real work responsibility and pay them for it – the act of receiving real money motivates people more than anything else I know!

This is not something I just preach. We actually practice that in AdventNet. For some years now, we haven’t required college credentials for employment. We disregard grades. In the past 2 years, we have started a program in our Chennai center, where we enroll students after high school in our own internal “University” which combines work and education. I am very happy to report that results have been outstanding.

I have written on this subject before. Since there are multiple posts in each subject, I am linking the search results that display all of them:

Perils of Credentialism: http://search.yahoo.com/search?p=perils+of+credentialism

College Eduction and the Placebo Effect (where I talk about the real value of college and how to get at that value without incurring all the expense): http://search.yahoo.com/search?p=college+education+and+the+placebo+effect

Community Driven Translation in Zoho Sheet

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Yesterday, we rolled out an update to Zoho Sheet that includes Image Upload, Safari Support etc. There is one other important concept that was part of the update….community driven translation on the user interface. This is a new way of translating web applications at the UI level, driven by the community. The experiment starts with Zoho Sheet.

Check out http://translate.sheet.zoho.com/

If you want to help translate Zoho Sheet in your language, select ‘WYSIWYG‘ mode for the language and you’ll be directed to Zoho Sheet user interface where you can start translating right within the application.

The translation process is very simple. Move your mouse on the word you want to translate and an ‘Edit’ icon appears. Click on the icon to specify the translated word and click save. Thats it. You can continue this process to translate all words. Words highlighted in yellow are the non-translated words and the ones highlighted in blue are the translated ones. If you can’t translate all words, just save it and leave the other part for other users to translate. If you are an expert in translation, we also have ‘Power Mode’ to do quick translation.

We also maintain history of all the previous translated versions for each language. Once the translation reaches about 80-90%, we plan to add it to supported languages list in Sheet.

While we currently support 13 languages in Zoho Sheet, we thought it might be better to give you the control to translate the application in the language you want. If you don’t find your language in the list, let us know and we’ll add it.

The below video gives you a quick overview of how this works.

Please do give this new concept a try and let us know what you think.

Zoho Sheet : Insert Images, Safari support and more

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Zoho Sheet now supports inserting images into your spreadsheets. You can also import spreadsheets containing images. Inserting image via an URL will follow in a later update.

Zoho Sheet also now works on the Safari browser (version 3.x). We have fixed the major issues in Safari. Some more minor things need to be corrected. We also intend to support Opera in the future releases.

Other notable features include:

  • More currencies – Euro, British pound, Japanese Yen and Indian Rupee in addition to US Dollar.
  • View the Zoho Sheet interface in Simplified Chinese language (in addition to 12 other languages).
  • Zoho Sheet’s Remote API now supports the CSV format too.

The following presentation captures the new features.

Recent blog posts on Zoho Creator

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Some of our users are experiencing how cool Zoho Creator and the team behind it is! Arthus, a 14-year old student has this say about Deluge & Zoho Creator :

Forget about Ruby on Rails. Screw PHP. Toss aside Google Mashup Editor. Fall in love with Deluge and its beautiful sister, Zoho Creator. Zoho Creator is a wonderful online database application which is as powerful as it is simple.

The concept is simple – allow Joe Average to make a database of anything he choses. Even better, make it drop dead simple for him to do so. Throw in a couple of templates and you get Zoho Creator.

Read more of Arthus’ post. In a post titled Uncommon Support, ‘Land of ZC’ points to an article by Paul Bleicher, Chairman, Phase Forward Incorporated, in the Act Magazine. From the article, ‘Software Decisions and Opportunity Costs‘ :

Zoho’s newest offering was exactly what I (thought I) needed for my project. Called Zoho Creator, it is an application that allows nonprogrammers to create database applications for simple business use involving the entry and viewing of data. Without worrying about database design, the Zoho user simply drags the particular type of data entry fields onto a form (dropdown boxes, text boxes, checkboxes, etc.) and voila: Automatic database entry screens and reports are created.

With similar drag and drop validation elements, it is very easy to do range checks and logic checks on and between fields. In literally minutes it is possible to have a working data entry form with underlying database. These forms can be very easily inserted into Web pages, creating the look and feel of a professional Web form. In fact, some companies and organizations are using Zoho forms for simple surveys, course signups, and other simple tasks.

At some point during the evening I entered a snippet of script that prevented my application from working and issued an error message. Not knowing which validation script item it was that caused this, I spent an hour or two taking pieces of script out of the application, each time restarting and entering data. Over time, the application became really slow and funny things began happening. I couldn’t enter data. I couldn’t delete data. I couldn’t even delete the application itself. Finally, in exasperation, I tried to delete my entire account and start over. After going through this same cycle three times, the entire Zoho Creator “execution engine” choked on two lines of my script.

The next morning the entire development team from Zoho Creator called me from India. It seems that a bug in their code caused my little program to bring their application server to a grinding halt, preventing me and anyone from logging in. They were incredibly helpful and very responsive, fixing the problem on the spot.

The related thread that Paul had in our Zoho Creator forum. And a funny blog post by an undergraduate psychology student at York University, Canada, which refers to it.

Another blog, The Friendly Ghost has this to say of Zoho Creator :

I looked around, and I think I found it: Zoho, the online database tool. It’s easy as cake to use: piece of pie. I’ve already transferred the data from the spreadsheet to the database and you can see it here. You can edit it here.

Just click the column titles to sort A-Z or Z-A. Click the buttons across the top to add or edit (not delete, just yet, to protect it from wanton vandalism). Click search to, well, search – same goes for filter. Fed up of reading about theory? Filter by proof. Want some inspiration? Filter by theory. And, holiest of holies, sort by social media resource or by PR activity. It’s that simple.

Thanks, everyone! Afraid of databases? Come, try the Zoho Creator experience!

TechRepublic : Can Zoho be the next Microsoft?

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Jason Hiner in his recent article asks, “Sanity check: Could one of these five companies be the next Microsoft?“. And we are honored to have been listed there along with the giants Amazon, Apple, Google & Cisco. From the article :

This is the only real “little guy” on the list. I’ve written about the fact that Zoho already has an online office suite that is better than anything from Microsoft or Google. While the product is really good, what has been equally important for Zoho is that it has proven that it knows how to execute. Microsoft got to where it is today because it was faster and more effective at executing than any of its competitors, even if the products themselves weren’t always better. In 2007, Zoho has been running circles around Microsoft and Google in online office apps. It seems as if Zoho is releasing a new product or a key product update nearly every week, while Microsoft’s office suite and Google’s apps have been stagnant by comparison.

In just the last few weeks, Zoho has released Zoho Start (a user dashboard for files) and Zoho Business (a way for businesses to manage its online office users) to add to its growing stable of more than 15 programs. Zoho is quickly morphing into a platform. The question is whether that platform will extend beyond online productivity software and become something much larger and further integrated into the various layers of computing and the Internet. If Zoho continues its current pace, it has the potential to become a giant and create the next great business software platform.

Thanks, Jason!