Zoho “challenging the software world”?

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Dan Farber at ZDNet has a great post up Zoho sets out to challenge the software world – thanks a lot, Dan, for outing our secret plan for world domination (yeah, right!) I am going to have to pay for that title with my wife – she mercilessly punctures any delusions of grandeur I could harbor in a moment of weakness.

A couple of clarifications are in order: AdventNet, the parent company of Zoho, has an IT management software suite, very imaginatively named ManageEngine, which has been downloaded several million times, installed in over 700K sites, and since we have a generous free edition, the paying customer base is a lot smaller. In that respect, the AdventNet business model is much like that of any open source company. Lots and lots of free users (we love them!) and a subset of them become paying customers (we love them even more!). That philosophy keeps our customer acquisition costs low, so we can focus on doing what we really enjoy doing: build cool software, and lots of it. Indeed, one look at the AdventNet site will tell you how every product comes with a Free Edition.

As for quantity vs quality, it is true we ship a lot of products (over 70 if you count all AdventNet offerings, I have actually lost count!), but each of our product teams has a very strong mandate on quality. We would much rather withdraw a product offering than compromise quality. And we don’t start a product, unless we can dedicate meaningful engineering resources to it.

I bring these up, because that is pretty much the same philosophy we follow at Zoho. We want to have a very generous Free Edition, and then convert a subset of those to paying customers. Zoho CRM and Zoho Projects, both of which are commercially available, have a sizable pool of free users, from which a subset have become paying customers. We are going to follow the same policy with all our Zoho services.

Now, the big question: can Zoho survive against Google and Microsoft? Somehow I just don’t spend much time worrying about it (OK, may be just a little!). I reckon, based on our own 11 year history, if we keep shipping cool products, and treat the customer well, we will find a market. AdventNet has reinvented itself more than once in its history – Zoho is just the latest in a series of transformations, from a humble beginning with a single product 11 years ago (as an aside, anyone would like to take a guess what that first product was?) And surprisingly enough, we still ship that product, and have a strong base of loyal customers.

On the future of Zoho, there is only one assurance I can give: we will keep trying harder to offer the very best in online applications. We have a very passionate engineering team here and we love to come to work everyday.

Thank you again, Dan!

Zoho Meeting Now Open to Public

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Now that it’s been a week since we launched Zoho Creator 2.0, it’s time for another announcement. Today we are opening Zoho Meeting to public.

We announced Zoho Meeting in March and it was in Private Beta till now. Today it steps out as a Public Beta where anyone with a Zoho Account can use Meeting. The application is free while it is in Beta.

For those of you who are not very familiar with Zoho Meeting, it is a web conferencing application where you can schedule meetings with others and share your desktop. Apart from sharing your desktop, sharing a presentation is an important part. For this reason, we integrated Zoho Meeting with Zoho Show (our presentation application) where a desktop sharing session can be embedded inside a slide. Zoho Meeting is also integrated with Zoho Chat.

One of the advantages of Zoho Meeting is that the attendees can be on any operating system to attend a meeting. Here are some quick highlights of Zoho Meeting.

  • Create Meetings, share desktop with multiple attendees
  • Attendees can attend the meeting from any operating system
  • Comes with three viewers – Active-X, Java and Flash
  • Participants can choose to control presenter’s desktop
  • Meeting Viewer can be embedded into web pages and applications
  • Zoho Show and Zoho Chat is integrated into Zoho Meeting
  • Zoho Meeting is currently free while in Beta

Here is a quick video of the application.

Try Zoho Meeting out and we would love to hear your valuable feedback comments.

Zoho Creator 2.0 Gets a Very Good Welcome

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The recently released Zoho Creator 2.0 was well received by bloggers and journalists alike. Some quotes from the web regarding the release :

Marc Orchant @ ZDNet :

Creator uses a very nice GUI construction interface and a script builder (Creator’s scripting language is called Deluge) to assist even completely ham-handed people (like me) in developing very powerful and attractive applications with little more than point-and-click and drag-and-drop actions. Despite this accessibility, there’s a lot of power underneath the hood and to date more than 30,000 applications have been built by people using Zoho Creator.

Lifehacker, Zoho Creator is like Microsoft Access online :

Forget learning Microsoft Access and Visual Basic: the newly-revamped Zoho Creator is an easy-to-use online database creation tool.Set up your database’s fields (like for an address book: Name, Address, City, State) and then build drag and drop custom entry forms with different input types like radio buttons, check boxes and dropdowns. Ambitious types can add custom logic to the application using the script builder, and the whole shebang can be added to your web site or blog (say, for a feedback form or survey).

Kristen Nicole @ Mashable :

This latest version has lots of drag-n-drop functionality, for creating forms, views and defining layouts. Have more fun with drag-n-drop with the improved deluge script builder, which lets you create scripts without learning the syntax. A new user interface graces the Creator 2.0 upgrade as well, with easier ways to share content and manage multiple forms.

Scott Gilbertson @ Wired Blogs :

Zoho Creator 2.0 also includes some additional new features that bring it up to speed with other apps in the Zoho suite, like the ability to share applications with other Zoho users, new ways embed applications in your website and the ability to export your data in multiple formats.

Thomas Willingham has a detailed walk-through of creating an application :

The updated version of Creator is flexible, allowing the creation of applications using numerous options including using forms, importing spreadsheets, applying a template from the existing application gallery, or scripting.

I realize that I barely scratched the surface of this program. The application I created was straightforward and relatively simple. This is the first time I have used Zoho Creator, and I found it very easy to use. The interface was intuitive, and help was very good. The online product overview videos created by Zoho are always a nice touch.

Benoit Descary @ descary.com :

Zoho Creator est sans conteste l’une de mes applications Web2.0 favorites. Grâce à ce service, vous pouvez créer en quelques minutes, un formulaire d’inscription à un événement, un mini CRM ou encore une base de données de vos recettes favorites, en fait les possibilités sont infinies. [rough translation in English] : Zoho Creator is without question one of my favorite Web2.0 applications. Thanks to this service, you can create in a few minutes, a form of inscription to an event, a mini CRM or a data base of your favorite receipts, the possibilities are infinite. Update : Benoit also has a screencast on Creator 2.0.

Mike Gunderloy @ Web Worker Daily thought Zoho Creator 2.0 wasn’t exactly MS Access + VB on the net and he had an elaborate review :

When you log in to Creator, you get a big “Create New Application” button as an obvious starting point. This lets you start from a gallery of pre-built applications (project management, help desk, and so on), a blank application, or an imported spreadsheet. From there, you add forms, which again can come from a set of pre-built examples or start blank. The Zoho Creator form builder is an easy to use drag-and-drop environment with plenty of helpful visual cues; I didn’t have to read anything to add radio buttons or textboxes, set labels, change the options in a dropdown, and so on. Each form you build can have multiple views (single record or list), with security being applied on a view by view and action by action level. You can arrange views into tabs and control who can visit each tab of your application. Behind the scenes, Creator is building a relational database to match your forms, and there is a reasonably obvious way to link forms and so create linked tables (well, reasonably obvious if you understand the basics of relational databases).

There’s also scripting, with a new language called Deluge. Not only does Deluge allow you to attach actions such as validation or sending e-mail to typical events, but Creator form definitions themselves are saved in Deluge, so it enables you to modify forms dynamically, which is actually quite powerful. Zoho claims that you don’t need to be a programmer to use this language, and they provide a drag-and-drop script builder to put together some simple actions. But the “you don’t need to be a programmer” claim was hogwash in Access and VB, and it’s hogwash here; if you don’t understand the rudiments of things like events and boolean logic, Deluge will make no sense to you, and you’ll stick to the easy user interface stuff.

Overall, Zoho Creator is quite impressive for its niche. The learning curve is very shallow, and it’s almost trivially easy to bang out quick data collection and editing applications. Deluge is not a difficult language if you have any experience with programming, though as I said I remain skeptical of its universal appeal.

Zoli Erdos @zoliblog

Here’s a good example of Christopher Conway, Professor of Literature, a non-techie in his own words building a course database in Zoho Creator – and that was in the “old” release. Getting back to the journalism question above: yes, it is useful if you can build simple database application, but you really no longer have to learn coding anymore. Don’t take my word for it: go ahead, play with it. smile_wink

Cale @ palmit.commentary :

ZOHO Creator makes it easy to create a simple, or fairly complex, database (complete with a UI) in minutes. They’ve made it really easy to share the UI for data-entry – you can even post a code snippet to your website or blog to make the data-entry UI available anywhere you want. It’s free, it’s slick, and I’m completely surprised more people aren’t talking about this.

Thanks everyone, for your reviews & feedback! More to come in Zoho Creator …

Zoho Notebook Update: Auto-save & more

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After opening up Zoho Notebook recently, we got very good response/feedback from many users like you that kept us busy enhancing the application. In the last three weeks we made several updates to notebook enhancing different aspects of the application. You can track all our updates in this notebook which can also be accessed from the ‘Updates’ link inside the application.

One of the issue mentioned by some of the users is related to save. Some said they lost some data. We apologize for this. We take this issue very seriously. Our recent updates addressed this issue in particular. There were several enhancements we rolled out for saving content, but I want to share few key ones.

  • Auto-save: We implemented Auto-save for Notebook. Active notebook will now be auto-saved every one minute if there are any modifications.
  • Save on Close: If you make any changes to your notebook and close the browser window without saving changes, all your content will still be saved
  • Page Navigation: When you navigate across notebook pages without saving, the pages are saved automatically

Many users asked us how a book can be renamed. You can double click on the Book/Page tab to rename a book/page. In the latest update we also provided ‘Rename Book’ and ‘Rename Page’ option under the Edit Menu. We are working on contextual menus (for Book and Page) which might be a better way to provide options like Rename. Here is a proposed design. We’d love your feedback on this.
BookDialog.jpg

Any comments?

Donation Coder Review names Zoho Writer as the Winner in Online Word Processor Category

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The long title of this post says it all. Donation Coder did a very extensive review of Word Processors available in today’s market. This is arguably the most comprehensive coverage of all the word processors. In the review all the available options were categorized into three parts – Major Word Processors, Second-Tier Word Processors and Online Word Processors. I am not going to talk about the first two categories here, but in the Online Word Processor category, Zoho Writer is selected as a Winner and Google Docs is the runner-up.

Here is what Donation Coder has to say about Zoho Writer.

Zoho Writer combines the best of both word processing and HTML worlds in one online package. You can even use a CSS file as a template for your documents (more support for this on the way, too), making Zoho Writer a natural frontend for blogging. Faster than any other online app reviewed here with regard to upload speed, UI responsiveness, and navigation — you really get to see what AJAX can do here. Zoho Writer doesn’t waste space, either. By combining text, icons, toolbars, tabs, buttons, a sliding sidebar file explorer, along with a tight workspace, it clearly is built for productivity. Good design is when you take the best of others and bend them to your needs. With Zoho Writer you can get right to work with no learning curve at all. Even better, you can create (or learn!) a lot of cool HTML, and to a lesser extent CSS code with the documents you create using it. After using it for a short while, I’m willing to bet you’ll like it better than your desktop word processor — it’s that good.

We are honored to be selected as a winner in this category. Zoho Writer is a work in progress. We can do magic with these online apps. Stay tuned for some good enhancements coming your way.