Zoho Projects : Export your project data as csv/xls and more

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The latest Zoho Projects update brings in a couple of very useful features. We have been getting feedback of how useful it would be for our users to regularly backup their data. So, here it is – you can now export your ‘Tasks & Milestones’ and ‘Timesheets’ data in xls and csv formats whenever you want. Just click on the ‘Export’ button available in the ‘Tasks & Milestones’/’Timesheet’ tabs and you can save your data offline.

Zoho Projects offers a variety of plans and each plan has a specified amount of disk space allotted to it. You can now see how much of the allotted disk space you have used with the following options – in total, by user and by folder. This will allow you to effectively use the disk space available.

The above features as a Zoho Show slide show below.

If you closely watch the slides, you will also notice that the tasks now have various color codes depending upon priority.

Tell us what you think of this Zoho Projects update and what more features you would like to have in Zoho Projects.

An Update on Performance Updates

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Our focus on Zoho performance initiative so far has been reducing the initial loading time of our applications. That has gone really well: Zoho Show, Planner and Projects all load really fast, while Writer, Sheet & Wiki are reasonable, with some additional optimizations going on. CRM has focused on other database related optimizations, so the initial loading operation hasn’t been completed yet. Creator is in a class of its own, as far as performance tuning is concerned, because it is a development environment with a lot of dynamic/evolving set of applications; while it has gotten faster than before, much work remains to be done. Be assured we are on the job and won’t rest until we get this right – as a company dependent on Zoho applications ourselves, we realize how important performance is in every day use. No user should think about Zoho while using our applications, just simply focus on their own work, which is the indication we have achieved our goal.

As a next step in the performance initiative, we are now working on optimizing every user operation, every mouse click. This is particularly important for transaction oriented applications like CRM and Projects, as opposed to document oriented applications like Writer. A lot of database tuning is necessary, which has become a strong focus for us. CRM performance is better than a month ago, but one problem that remains is the occasional inconsistency in performance. We have also seen CRM being slow in Australia, which we are investigating. It seems much faster in India than in Australia (our data centers are in California), even though the overall bandwidth situation in India is very spotty. This is a situation we are taking up with our service provider, because simultaneous tests in India and Australia yield very different results.

In related news, we have received our next round of hardware, much more powerful than what we have now (it is a pleasure to buy servers, because each time  you are amazed at how much more can be had for how much less!). These servers are going through a full round of testing and qualification, before being pressed into service, which we expect by the end of March. So stay tuned for even more performance improvements.

Access control options in Zoho Wiki

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Zoho Wiki offers quite a few options for access control. For example, you can have a select group of members edit the Wiki but make the Wiki viewable for public. Or, say you can have the editing of the wiki as private (only you can edit it) but make the Wiki viewable by a select group of people or the public.
A query we receive from many Zoho Wiki users is how to have such permissions set, particularly group permissions. The following are the general steps involved in setting the permission levels for a group Wiki.

  1. Login to the Wiki you created
  2. Click on the ‘Settings’ link at the top. In the pop-up that appears, under the heading ‘Change your wiki permissions’, you will have to choose ‘Group(s)’ in atleast one of the headings – Reading/Editing.
  3. Once done, you should be seeing a ‘Group Members’ link at the top of your Wiki’s Dashboard page. If you aren’t seeing it, try refreshing your browser.
  4. Click on the ‘Group Members’ link and in the pop-up that appears, click on the ‘Add New Members’ link
  5. Add email IDs of your friends/group members and click on the ‘Add’ button
  6. The email IDs should get added with the message as ‘Pending’
  7. All the members that you added would have been sent a mail saying you have added them up as a group member in your wiki.
  8. If they have an account with Zoho Wiki already (in the same email ID that you used), they can login and see your wiki under ‘My Subscribed Wikis’ at the right-bottom and they can ‘subscribe’ to it
  9. Else they should sign up for a new account at http://wiki.zoho.com (with the same email ID that you used to mail them) and then can become a group member of your wiki as in the step above

Do tell us how useful you found the above tip to be.

Support for Larger Applications in Zoho Creator

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We have been pleasantly surprised by the number of people pushing the envelope on Zoho Creator, our online database & script-based application creation environment – sort of a web analog of Visual Basic, with a relational database backend. You create forms to capture data, create views with a variety of layout settings to display data, and scripts to create rules. The application can be segmented into various tabs. Just recently we added spreadsheet type of views, for in-place data editing – rather than launch a user input form from a view, the view grid itself can be made editable. One unique aspect of Creator is the way it fluidly blends in scripting in the GUI environment.

We have noticed lately that more and more users are pushing the envelope, building larger applications, with a lot more data as well as meta-data (i.e number of tables/columns). Forms are getting bigger, picklists are growing, and people need a lot more sophistication in views. Scripts are getting more complex as well. All of these highlight the need for better performance, because larger applications stress the infrastructure more. These needs are driving our development lately. We have a series of updates planned in the next few weeks addressing easier form/view creation, more sophisticated views, easier scripting, high performance and more.  Brand new hardware is also being commissioned as we speak.

Among all the Zoho applications, Zoho Creator has been my personal favorite, because it appeals to the programmer geek in me. This is the tool that fulfills the vision of “situated software” – quick custom applications that serve an individual or small group, created with as much ease as creating a spreadsheet. I truly believe we are in the early days of this technology, and a lot more innovation lies ahead. User feedback is the fuel that keeps us moving, and we really appreciate hearing from you.

So, what does it mean for Zoho?

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Now that Google has announced its gameplan for an online Office suite targeting businesses, what does it mean for Zoho? As a TechCrunch commenter remarked “looks like poor old Zoho just got thrown a curveball”. Well, it is not like we were not facing an “insurmountable” force already (does the name Microsoft ring a bell?). Our business plan is not based on us beating Microsoft or Google, it is based on serving customers well enough to earn a profitable share of the market. Business is not superbowl, though it often appears that way in a 24×7 news cycle. It is perfectly possible for a smaller company to offer a compelling product to customers and earn a perfectly good living, without “winning” the market. And having a profitable business helps us invest in R&D to bring more innovations to market, keeping the pot boiling so to speak. After all, building a profitable business in AdventNet is what allowed us to invest in the R&D to create Zoho – and made this conversation possible! And if you look at the markets AdventNet serves, we have tens of thousands of happy business customers, but we also face companies much larger than us.

As of today, it is Zoho that has a broader, more polished suite of offerings than anyone else in the market – as the overwhelming response to Zoho Notebook demonstrated. We are sure Google’s offerings will get better over time, but we are sure we will keep moving too. And services like Zoho CRM, Zoho Projects and Zoho Creator help us differentiate our offerings even more, helping us in the crucial task of earning a profitable share of the market. We are by no means finished – in March we have a significant new offering coming, and even more in the months ahead.

Let’s not forget that Google can and does really expand the market for all of us in the online productivity applications space. This is the famous “anchor tenant” effect in shopping malls – having the presence of a large, recognized retail player helps attract the crowd to help the smaller players. We have already seen how our busiest days are when Google makes an announcement.

One assurance we can give customers: we have a strong, profitable business, focused on delivering real value to our users. We have a ten year track record to prove it. And we try harder.

Zoho Planner tip : See all your to-dos

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One common question we receive from our Zoho Planner users,

It is difficult for me to see my to-dos for the day as my to-dos are typically present across multiple pages. How can I view them all in a single page?

You can actually see your to-dos across pages applying some pre-built filters that Zoho Planner offers. On the left panel, click on “To do’s overview” -> “All my to do’s”. In the page that opens, on the top-right you will see a combo box. Choose the appropriate option there and this will list all your to-dos across pages.

planner-all-to-dos

Bonus tip : For making an offline copy of your to-dos, use your browser’s ‘Print’ option for printing the page.

Performance Improvement Updates are Rolling In

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For the past several weeks, the highest priority for Zoho development teams has been performance. Of course, this is the top requested “feature” from users too. We are happy to report that we have made considerable progress towards this goal, and have made a series of updates across Zoho services. CRM, Projects, Sheet, Writer, Wiki, Planner and Creator have had one round of updates recently, and you may have noticed the difference. There are still more areas where we can improve, and further performance-oriented updates are being planned over the next few weeks, across all Zoho services. These software improvements are happening alongside the fact that new users are coming in at an increasing rate, and the usage from existing users is going up. We also have significant amount of new hardware being added in a month, to scale to the next level of user base and usage.

We are committed to provide world-class performance and service levels across Zoho. AdventNet, the parent company of Zoho, is known for infrastructure management software, and we like to eat our dogfood. If you encounter a performance problem with a particular Zoho service, it would help to know your location and the particular operation on which you encountered difficulty – there are still some unoptimized code paths we need to tighten up, so it would help to pinpoint where we should focus our immediate attention.