Zoho at the University of Virginia

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The teachers/students at the University of Virginia are finding the Office trio of Zoho useful. They have multiple posts on us. (in fact they have separate categories created for Sheet, Show & Writer!). There was this post asking for comments about Zoho (and BubbleShare) and some of comments given there :

Leigh Says:
I can’t wait to introduce my English classes to Zoho writer In the past, we have had so many problems with saving the student’s work; using zoho tools, students will no longer need to panic when they discover that their computer does not have a compatible drive or that their disk is not functioning! I liked the appealing layout of Zoho writer and the capacity to track changes made to documents. I also love that the Zoho programs make work between home and school a breeze!

emilym Says:
I really like the Zoho programs. Zoho Writer would be very easy for me to use in Chemistry because I have to type many chemical formulas and equations and it gets tiresome trying to do subscripts and superscripts over and over. Zoho writer has buttons right there! Zoho Sheet would also be useful because I often use Excel and this would allow me to send my spreadsheets and graphs to colleagues instead of printing them out and making many copies. Zoho Show is nice, but I’m so used to PowerPoint that I don’t know if I could switch

Amy Mallow Says:
The Zoho features are pretty interesting. Like I said for the seedwiki, it would have been a useful tool for us in the last class where we shared our writing, made comments, and suggested changes. With the ZohoWriter, we would have been able to highlight the areas we were suggesting changes to be made, and we would not have had to send out numerous emails with lots of attachments. I’m thinking about trying the ZohoShow with my summer school students. I’ll let you know how it goes!

Katie Says:
Zoho is nice because the features are accessible from any computer, and you don’t have to worry about having your memory stick or disk. I like that you can share with others, too, on all of these sites (and choose the people you do so with).

Bland Says:
The Zoho Writer will be very useful in my class. We do not have Word on every computer in our school so this tool is very helpful for publishing.

Anika Armistead Says:
I think the Zoho programs are neat. I liked the ability to create the charts and graphs on ZohoSheet and then share them with other students. I can see this working great with our Pre-IB Chemistry classes and Pre-IB Algebra 2 classes that often share data on labs and projects where they analyze data.

It gives us immense satisfaction & pride knowing that Zoho is reaching the student community & serving them well :-)

Zoho Creator Under Maintenance, and Here is Why

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In our Zoho suite, popular services such as Zoho Writer and Zoho Show already run on a grid of servers. This means huge improvements in reliability, with downtime becoming negligible. They can also handle more concurrent users, as we keep adding more servers to the grid. In grid based systems, individual servers can come and go without causing service disruption. Zoho Sheet and Zoho Creator are still transitioning to the grid, and this process is expected to be complete within the next month. Zoho Creator is particularly challenging because database schemas for user applications can evolve. Our grid software makes some assumptions about schema evolution, which most other applications satisfy, but not Zoho Creator. This means some additional custom work, hence the delay.

Until that is complete, we are stuck with care-and-feeding the servers periodically. Data is backed up both in real time on disk and off-line so this is not a data protection issue, but more of a service availability issue.

Please accept our apologies for this service downtime. Once we move to the grid, this issue will not recur.

Update: It is up now.

WSJ mentions Zoho again

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Rob Guth at The Wall Street Journal, in an article titled “Is It Time to Dump Your Desktop?” (requires paid subscription to view) talks about how web-based software is turning out to be a good alternative to many small & medium businesses. Analyzing the web-based software field, he quotes two of our users, Ted Hughes of SoluChem LLC of Austin, Texas and Tim Lauer, principal of Meriwether Lewis Elementary School, in Portland, Ore.

Ted Hughes spent about two months last year trying to use a Microsoft program called Access to create a database for his industrial-supply company, SoluChem LLC of Austin, Texas. But he found the complex program daunting to use. And he knew that when he was done with the database, he would face another challenge — figuring out how to let his suppliers and co-workers tap into the information over the Web.

Then Mr. Hughes discovered Zoho Creator. This free Web-based software handled the job — but without the bells and whistles of Access that had baffled him. And since the program stored his data on the Web, his colleagues could tap into it easily with a browser. “To me it was like a godsend,” says Mr. Hughes, operations manager at SoluChem. “It did everything I wanted without the learning process.”

Tim Lauer, principal of Meriwether Lewis Elementary School, in Portland, Ore., uses the Zoho suite. He uses Zoho Creator, for instance, to make a form on the Web to collect student information from his teachers. On the plus side, he says, Zoho is online and as such it allows him and his staff to share documents more easily. But the software’s Web interface is also a drawback, he says. There may be times, such as while traveling, that his staff wants to work on the spreadsheet but doesn’t have an Internet connection.

Thanks to Robert A. Guth for mentioning us & Ted and Tim for the references! Like Tim, there are many concerned about web-based software’s non-availability when there isn’t a net connection. But with the internet becoming omnipresent, this issue should go away. Also, there may (will?) be offline versions in future that one can use when there isn’t a net connection. And this will allow to sync up with the online version when a connection becomes available.

ps: Zoho got mentioned previously in WSJ in articles ‘The Evolving Art of Simplicity‘ & ‘The Installation Blues‘ (both may require paid subscription) by Jeremy Wagstaff. The NYT had mentioned Zoho in an article titled ‘Now, Free Ways to Do Desktop Work on the Web‘ by Damon Darlin.

Alternative ways of viewing attachments

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Some people have expressed strong concerns on attaching documents along with e-mail. (Rather ironical that the most commonly used document type is considered the most dangerous as an e-mail attachment). Instead of sending a document as an attachment, with Zoho Writer, these methods can be alternatively used:

(1) If the document is hosted at a website: If the document is in any of the formats – MS Word (Doc), Open Office (SXW), HTML, ODT, RTF, JPEG, GIF, PNG, TXT – then use the “Import URL” option and enter the URL.

(2) If the document is not hosted at a website: If you don’t have the software such as MS Word or Open Office installed, then this will be of help. Click on the “Import” button in Zoho Writer. As the “Import Document” box opens, you will find an e-mail address. Usually it will be {somecharacters}[at]docs[dot]zohowriter[dot]com. You can e-mail an attachment to your account using this address and the document will appear in the left pane.

These would mean that:

(1) You don’t need any software installed to read the documents (mainly MS Word and Open Office formats)

(2) Free from vulnerabilities. No virus threat. (Atleast not yet)

(3) You don’t require a crash course in file formats and the problems associated with creating them. We support most common formats and export to one of these formats.

(4) It is independent of the version of software you used for creating the document. So to speak, it is irrelevant if you used version x.x.01 or x.x.02, you can import the document. Although there are possibilities of formatting losses, the document can still be viewed.

Plus, all other advantages of using Zoho Writer such as collaboration can be availed.

Zoho Creator had been to salon…

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…to get a more polished look for few screens and enhance the user experience.

Polished Screens:

1.Create application window.
With our earlier design (tabbed style), users where unable spot different ways of creating application quickly. A user even asked us whether he can create application by loading his spreadsheet, when Zoho Creator was supporting it already. Pretty sad, UI was not 100% obvious.

So we decided to get away with the tabbed style and opted for window split style.

Create application window.

The create application window is split into two – Left and Right. Left pane has different ways of creating an application (from scratch, from template, by importing xls file and by writing Deluge script) and the right pane has the required input fields.

With the new design you can identify different ways of creating an application easily, by its unique and colorful icons. You can also make your application as private or leave it as public in this screen.

2. ‘Getting Started’ screen.
We have added ‘Getting Started’ screen in the edit mode of the application. I am sure this will be handy for the first time users.

Getting Started

This screen has 4 very useful pointers on how to proceed with your application.

3. Views
When the whole world is going gaga over Zidane’s clean shaved head (no not his head butt!), Zoho Creator Views has also opted for clean, well organized head.

View header

  • Filters, Add, Delete, Search Records and pagination – aligned left
    When applications has many columns, it was difficult to access pagination and search records (which was at right extreme of the view header, earlier).


  • Now you can easily toggle between display types – List View, Summary View or Calendar View.
  • More Actions – Embed this view in your site, Export data, Column Display/Rearrange.
    (‘Export Data’ has undergone significant changes, I will post a separate blog on it.)

Records

  • Alternate row colors for better readability.

Days are not far away when edit user interface also gets a complete make over. So stay tuned!

~Roughic

Is Zoho Creator high priority for Zoho team?

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This is a valid question raised by Andrew (DabbleDB’s founder) in their forums. With bunch of online applications under zoho brand, obviously, any one-product-competitor would say our weakness is “lack of focus”

To clarify on this,

We have extremely focused independant teams working on each zoho service – in Paul Graham words, each zoho service is a startup, and each product manager is the chief executive for the respective service.

In fact, too much of such independency to zoho teams is hurting us now ;-) Many of our customers have asked for single sign-on support between zoho services which we thought we could take up after each service has its own customers and stands by itself. Now its time and we are on top of it. This is a clear evidence that each zoho service has its own external focus and operate as separate startup.

Zoho Creator has come long way to what it stands today, still lot more ahead. We make almost monthly once major updates, which proves we have dedicated team and validates that we have high priority for it.

In the same post, Andrew had made interesting comment that Zoho Creator has water fall model of app creation and Dabble is more of incremental development. Your observation is wrong, Andrew. We have deliberately separated the “build mode” (app creation environment) and “live mode” (the actual app itself). We feel, when both mode mixed up it confuses the user, especially if the user is not the one who created the application. We do have option for users to change their application as they proceed with their data, like support for field type change, view configurations, filters etc. So, Zoho Creator is very friendly for incremental app creation. Please try it yourself and decide.

Hyther

Zoho Show: Audio & Video Support?

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Does Zoho Show have audio/video support? My answer would be YES.

While it is not straight forward as we’d like, you still can insert audio/video clips into your presentations created in Zoho Show. Let me explain.

The addition of a new feature – Insert HTML – in Zoho Show gives some really cool abilities inside presentations. You can use this feature to insert Audio and Video. Here is a sample presentation to demonstrate this.

There are quite a few sites out there to hold your audio/video files and they also provide code to embed these files in other sites. You can use those sites to upload your files and the code they provide to insert audio/video files can be used in Zoho Show. For audio files, I like Odeo (Odeo Studio lets your upload/create/link audio) and for Video, I use YouTube. You can upload your existing files in to odeo/youtube and copy the code for embedding these files, then click on ‘Insert HTML’ icon tag.jpg in Zoho Show and paste the code. This should insert audio/video player in whatever slide you need this. Here are couple of screenshots…

 

Audio
Video

 

Thats simple right? Beleive me, you can do magic using this -Insert HTML- feature.

More later….

Raju