Build Business Database Applications Online with Zoho Creator

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Zoho adds powerful features to Zoho Creator 3.0 and introduces a new Marketplace to buy and sell the resulting Web applications.


There are times when you need a small application in a hurry, and you don't feel like spending a few hundred--or a few thousand--dollars to acquire it. Sometimes just the time involved shopping for the right solution can make you decide it's easier to create it yourself. At least that way, you know you're going to get what you need, not something that's "close" but actually someone else's idea of what they thought you should need.


The world has found a fast and easy solution to this challenge in Zoho Creator, a free online solution to creating powerful database applications. So far, people have built more than 100,000 applications in Zoho Creator. This past week, Zoho released Zoho Creator 3.0, which allows users to build dynamic HTML pages, mashups, and scriptable components. Users can use Data Enriched Language for the Universal Grid Environment (Deluge) as the online scripting language for Zoho Creator if they want to add logic to their applications. The Deluge Script Builder provides a drag-and-drop user interface to add Deluge scripts without having to learn the Deluge syntax and functions. Using Deluge, you can combine data from external Web sites, among other things.


Users get quite gushy about their accomplishments with Zoho Creator, and many are rightfully quite proud of what they have built online. People start thinking to themselves (and their friends probably egg them on), "This is so darn slick, I bet I could sell it!" Then they start dreaming about starting an eBay store and selling software as a way to pay for the family's rising gasoline costs and upcoming winter heating fuel bills. However, if their great creation was built in Zoho, it's remains online, which makes it a little difficult to slam onto a DVD and park in a colorful box for overnight FedEx shipping. But those folks over at Zoho, including Raju Vegesna , who calls himself a "Zoho evangelist," are very bright and agile and came up with an idea for selling software in which you can use it but never actually download it.


This approach is fine with me, by the way, because every time I buy software that I have to download, I mess up. Don't ask me what happens because I don't know. But half the time, I buy the software and then decide I'm too busy to download it right then, so I put it off. I know it's going to tie up my computer for a half hour to an hour or more. So the order sits up there with the software just waiting to be downloaded, begging me to download it, yet I deny it the pleasure of coming to reside on my computer for one day, two days, three days...eventually, I lose track. Finally, I go back to the download page happy to claim my prize, and the offer has expired! I've paid for the software, and they won't give it to me because I waited too long. This is very mean-spirited, I believe.


Zoho, a division of AdventNet, does it a little differently. This week, they introduced what they are calling Zoho Marketplace. If you see an application that you like, you install it to your account. It feels sort of the same as downloading it to your computer, but it's a lot quicker. For all I know it's a faux download, and nothing is really happening while you're watching the progress bar move and waiting for it to complete except that you are building up the expectation of getting something cool in a few minutes. Perhaps they're just creating the illusion that you are receiving something by installing it to your "account" and in fact the software never really moves anywhere... who knows?


The apps that are up there now are for the most part written by Zoho employees, or early partners, and are free. But the potential exists--and people will soon start trying this through the new Zoho Creator Partner Program--of writing an application and charging for its use. You can also post your requirements in Marketplace and have someone else custom build it for you using Zoho tools.


It's early days for Zoho Marketplace, and there still are a few bugs to work out. I found an attractive little IT Assets application that I thought I could use for keeping track of my drivers and various cards and components scattered among different computers. It only took a minute or so to "install," but then I couldn't "access" it because the activation button didn't work. I tried another--a  Project Manager Plus application--and the same thing happened. At first I thought it might be my browser settings being tweaked so as not to allow scripting or something, but I think it probably was the Web site button. I'm not worried, however, because Zoho is so proactive that if isn't my browser, they'll have it fixed in short order.


To check out the new Zoho Marketplace, where there already are applications for use in the areas of sales, marketing, IT management, HRMS, education, nonprofits, and more, go to To explore Zoho Creator, visit Zoho Creator is free for a personal or small business account, with gradually increasing fees up to $300 per month for a "100-user pack." Account usage limits also apply.



Figure 1: Zoho Creator is free when used for a personal or small business account and up to $300 per months for 100 users. (Click image to enlarge.)