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Online Office Suites Part 3: Zoho Creator

Microsoft Access has been the weapon of choice for businesses when creating small applications, there are probably a millions of small programs and databases built in Microsoft Access. If you have developed applications for enterprises in Access you also know the pains associated with it. It is hard to make any changes once the application has been launched (you need to re-release it and what not), applications with multiple users have to be packaged and often an external data storage such as Oracle is needed.

Zoho Creator is a web-based alternative to Microsoft Access sharing the concept of creating database applications with relative ease. A Zoho Creator application is free of charge if less than five users are using it. Since Creator is web-based the users of the database will have access to it from anywhere (permissions can of course be set), remember how painful it is to create web-interfaces to databases made in Access?

A table in Zoho Creator is basically called a view and consists of several records. It is easy to import data from other applications such as Excel or .csv files into a view. It also works well the other way around, Zoho Creator exports records in csv, pdf or RSS format. It is not uncommon for database administrators to change the same setting on maybe hundreds of records. Zoho Creator has a feature named Bulk-edit where it is easy to change a setting for multiple records.

The user-interface in Zoho Creator is in most situations a breeze to use. It is easy to create decent-looking layouts quickly, and the learning-curve is virtually zero if you ever worked in other similar database applications.

However creating more advance applications requires a bit more from the developer, naturally. For deal with advanced features Zoho created Deluge scripting, which stands for Data Enriched Language for the Universal Grid Environment… So what Zoho basically mean is that widely spread scripting languages like Python can’t be used in Zoho. This is a huge drawback, since there are hordes of Python developers out there, but not that many Deluge developers.

Zoho have tried to solve the problem by launching Developers Zone, which is basically like Elance but for Zoho oriented developers. There is also Zoho Marketplace, which is basically a store with apps that can be installed in your Zoho Creator solution. Most of the applications are business oriented within sales, marketing, IT, HR and Customer Services. Many of the applications are free and I think most small businesses will find everything they need in the Zoho Marketplace.If you have developed a useful application you can upload them to the Zoho Marketplace, and share them with other Creator users.

Zoho Creator is in my opinion the only simple alternative to Microsoft Access right now; there will probably be competitors out there in a while as cloud computing catch on. However if you have slim programming skills and just want a fast way to set up a customized web application, Zoho Creator is the way to go.

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