We 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.