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Thursday, August 26, 2010

Building systems with Zoho

Nathan Adams, who leads the software development team at ICPSR, told me about Zoho a few months ago. I've been using it a lot recently for a project outside of ICPSR, and I've liked Zoho enough that I thought it was worth telling others about it.

Zoho fits into the "software as a service" space, not unlike the more familiar Google. So just as there is GMail for managing and reading email, Zoho has a similar service. I've been using their Zoho Reports service. Despite the name, Zoho Reports feels more like a little database service to me. One creates tables, and the columns of the tables have typed data (currency, text, dates, etc). One may also create Query Tables whose content is ephemeral: it is fetched from other tables using a language that is SQLish. The Query Tables support only the most basic of SQL queries, but that's OK for the particular application I have.

(I'm on the board of directors of our neighborhood association, and as the secretary, I needed a tool where I could manage information about residents, like email address, telephone number, address, etc, and information about homes.)

Zoho Reports also allows one to display and export the information in a variety of formats. For example, one can both import and export content via CSV format files, and one can export the content of a Query Table in a reasonably attractive PDF report.

I'm currently using Zoho through a free subscription. This limits the number of tables, query tables, records, users, etc that I can use. I'm likely to upgrade to a $15/month subscription that will increase my limits, and also enable an automated database backup facility.

If others have used any of the Zoho apps, I'd be interested in hearing your take on them.

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