Zoho Adds Another Database

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Zoho DB logoWe previously reported on Zoho Creator, the first entry of online application powerhouse Zoho into the database market. Now the company is back with another product in a very similar niche: Zoho DB & Reports, which launched this week with the inevitable “Access for the Web” comparisons. To see what distinguishes the two, we took the new cousin out for a spin.

Zoho DB is extremely easy to get started with. You can import data from XLS or CSV (or similar delimited) formats (although there is a 5000-row/1 megabyte limit on imports). The import process gives you a chance to rename columns and select data types, and the end result either way is an easily navigated datasheet that feels much like a spreadsheet. No real surprises so far. After creating a table, you can also add calculated or lookup columns; you can have multiple tables (and other objects) open simultaneously in a tabbed user interface.

It’s with the other objects that Zoho DB starts to diverge from online spreadsheet products. There are drag-and-drop interfaces (reminiscent of the Microsoft Excel pivot table designer) for creating charts, pivot tables, and grouping queries (which the product calls summary views). There’s also a very flexible query interface which, although it does not offer a graphical designer, promises to understand a wide variety of SQL dialects, including Oracle, SQL Server, MySQL, DB2, and ANSI, among others (though not Microsoft Access). These tools make analyzing data, including cross-table analysis, simple if you have a modicum of database experience. The chart designer in particular is nicely done for both bar charts and line charts.

Once you’re happy with a piece of analysis, Zoho DB also makes it easy to share: you can grab an IFRAME or straight URL for any view within the database with a couple of clicks. You can also decide whether views are public or private, and choose whether users should have read-only or read-write access. This gives you an easy way to embed, say, a chart based on live data right into your blog.

What’s missing? There’s no integration with the other Zoho applications – not even direct import from Zoho Sheet – though the company promises future announcements on that point. There’s also no programmability, which is the simplest way to understand what distinguishes Zoho DB from Zoho Creator: Creator offers a reasonably full-featured scripting language for customization. For an entry-level online database, DB is very accessible, but you’re likely to hit its limits if you want to do something truly customized (such as a data entry form). When you do, you’ll need to look at Creator instead.

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Sridhar Vembu

Mike, Thanks for the review! On Zoho Creator vs Zoho DB, yes, the key difference is programmability via scripting vs custom in-depth reporting. We will integrate them at the data level, so data collected through Creator can be reported on via DB, but we feel the depth and sophistication we offer in a reporting product cannot be captured in a scripting product, and vice versa. Similar distinction can be made between Zoho Sheet vs Zoho DB.

In fact, once APIs are ready, Zoho DB will offer a convenient back-end for applications, exactly the way a “web database” should work – no more, no less. Here the crucial difference is that Zoho Creator offers a hosted programming environment (with a DB backing), while Zoho DB offers the DB layer directly, and you-bring-your-language.

The other key difference is that Zoho DB embraces SQL, and supports all major dialects of it, in Zoho DB. We will flesh out this functionality even further in future updates. We have some cool technology in AdventNet, called SwisSQL, that is behind this functionality.

Sridhar

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