Zoho Creator creates 'weblications'

* Zoho Creator, Web 2.0 at its best

In this newsletter earlier this year, I discussed a software-as-a-service provider called Zoho that offered an online word processing weblication (a name that sounds slightly better than "a SaaS service").

Since then, Zoho has released a whole range of services and one in particular has really impressed me: Zoho Creator a weblication that creates weblications. Actually, to be quite accurate, Zoho Creator only builds database Web apps but - wow! - it does that incredibly well.

Sign up (the service is free) and you are presented with a polished AJAX-driven interface that allows you to create an application from scratch or copy (and modify if you wish) an existing application.

To create an application you specify the various fields you want along with their data types, field validations, and other properties such as whether the application is public or private. You then create views - displays of the data from the application's database - and forms for data entry. Views and forms can also be filtered to access a specific subset of the database.

All of the views and forms can be embedded in your own Web site using a script that is downloaded dynamically from the Zoho Creator site (either as a simple reference or enclosed in an i-frame) or referenced via a "permalink."

You can add code written in the Deluge language to drive your application. Some examples of the value of Deluge suggested by Zoho are:

* Perform an action when a row is added successfully or detect when someone adds a row to a form. For example, you might want to receive e-mail notifications as and when a row is added.

* Perform an action when a row is updated. For example, in the case of a bug tracker, you might want to receive e-mail notifications whenever the status of the issue gets modified.

* Validate the form data before persisting it.

* Add a row only if it satisfies a certain criteria and reject the other entries. For example, in a recruitment application, accept only those applicants who have more than two years of experience.

* Define formulas for calculations. For example, assume a student database has marks obtained by students in all the subjects and you want to display the total and average marks also.

* Create complex filters in views.

You can also export all records in a view in Microsoft Excel, OpenOffice spreadsheet and Zoho Sheet format (Zoho's own spreadsheet service); as an HTML document that can be opened in browsers including Internet Explorer, Firefox, and Safari; as a PDF document; as an RSS feed so that subscribers can watch changes in the data; as a JSON (a Javascript-based, lightweight data exchange format); as a CSV feed; and as a TSV feed (a 'flat file' format commonly used for inter-application data transfer).

Zoho creator runs on Internet Explorer 5.5+, Firefox 1.0+ and Mozilla 1.7+.

I found a couple of minor problems with Zoho Creator: Performance was occasionally poor and embedding the views in my Web pages sometimes didn't work. That said, Zoho Creator is incredibly ambitious and there's a lot more to the service that I just don't have space to cover. If there was ever a poster child for the Web 2.0 world, this is it!

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