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.

Wikicamp.in

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Some news from this part of the world – Zoho’s home city, Chennai, India. Wikicamp.in, an event to better understand the role that Wikis play in today’s world is to be held this Sunday, February 25, 2007. The participants list has very different profiles of people and shows that Indian enterprises are indeed interested in this new platform.

wiki-camp

Zoho is one of the sponsors of the event. See you there :-)

Sync up your spreadsheet with remote web pages

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Last week we added a new feature in Zoho Sheet which helps you to sync up with data available in the form of HTML tables in public web pages. We had this syncing up with public CSV files earlier, and now we have added support for tables of data in web pages. So if you want to have your spreadsheet filled in with data automatically updated from a particular web page and do some analysis on it, then this would be quite useful. If you have used Web Query in Excel, then you will be able to relate to this feature.

Here is a sample spreadsheet which makes use of web query:

In the above spreadsheet, the exchange rates are fetched daily from http://x-rates.com. Based on the exchange rate, the total sales in USD is calculated (refer cell F21).

And here is how you can configure your spreadsheet to make use of this feature. Use the ‘Link External Data’ feature available under the ‘More Actions’ menu.

Link External Data Menu

How are you using this feature? Share your story on our discussion forums.

Apart from this, we have improved the page loading speed (especially when you login). More performance improvements are coming.

Zoho on Safari

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No we dont officially support Safari yet, but if you still want to use Zoho apps in Safari, there is a way to do it.

Download the latest Webkit from Webkit.org and use Safari that comes with it. You’ll be able to use Zoho Writer, Sheet and other apps as well (though we say we dont support safari yet). I have been playing with it for a few days and I didnt face many issues apart from some minor ones.

Interstingly, the version of Safari that comes with Webkit is the same (including the build number) as the version I had on my Mac.

We plan to support Safari after Leopard release.