Few weeks ago I rediscovered Zoho! I saw it before but the urge of trying an online office never occurred to me.

It’s been sometime that we were facing difficulties keeping our alternative property listing updated where we had the latest updates. Then we could keep the master system updated and use the local excel files for fast data transfer to partners or 3rd party property portals since our main system don’t offer such a luxury (well, security reasons as always!)

Well, it’s been almost a year that I was literally begging the top management to let us implement a tiny database (LAMP) on the net and solve the productivity issues we are facing. Every time I got rejected till recently that things got crazy! So I got the green light but not only I didn’t have time to do it by myself or supervise a development team, but also I was even to busy to order a 3rd party company to do it for us!

I was surfing back and forth that I found Creator, the wizard stick of Zoho. Creator is an extremely easy to use database development platform and it is online! Forget about struggling with Access for small database applications where you don’t even get an option to take your data online on a cheap LAMP server.

People who did it know that how frustrating it could be to deal with PHP and MySQL on small projects. It could take 10 to 30 days to make something representable and the pity is that you waste a lot of time with UI only. Even frameworks won’t help you that much and Rails will take smetime too.

After tweaking and learning Creator (took me less than hour!) I managed to create an application that met almost 80%-90% of our needs! I just couldn’t believe it.

I created an application (without even touching or seeing the actual database) that is able to store relational data in 3 different entities (let say tables) and show them in 8 different views (reports).

The UI easier than in a typical RAD and I could define basic validation constraints on the go.

I just love the views! You get a full list of the table and you can filter the resultset quickly with “filters” intelligently made based on some fields. There is a great search feature that you virtually can make some of the most sophisticated criteria sets.
It is also so easy to export data immediately to some of most common formats (Excel, PDF, RSS, CSV, …) that saves you a big deal of time transferring data between heterogeneous platforms.

I also created users for our internal staff with different authorization level that they could play as safe as possible. In the other hand I did the same for some of the 3rd party portals we work with and they could easily login to the system and see only the view was assigned to them and get the information the want without even bothering contacting us.

Isn’t it just awesome?! Yeah, many packages do that and even do it better but for how much? This application cost me $0 if you ignore 2-3 hours I put in total for developing and debugging.

This is what I can really call Web 2.0 and I am ready to even pay for it if I get a better customer support.

Zoho has many other fantastic web applications. For instance “Database and Report” is a hardcore database tool but was not suitable for my audience. CRM and Business package look powerful too although I found it not very suitable for our other requirements. They still need some fine tuning.

We are now using Zoho Creator for more than 15 days and it works very good although I have some minor limitations in developing even more features part of which is promised in the next versions.