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Macros For Dummies

I’ve never made a secret of the fact that my spreadsheet skills are somewhere at the level of what I learned using Lotus 1-2-3:-)  so the recent addition of Macros and Pivot tables to Zoho Sheet was really not my piece of cake.  Not that I would not recognize the techological feat when both Google and Editgrid said they couldn’t / wouldn’t do it…

Now I have to admit I occasionally tinkered around with Excel macros: not that I know Visual Basic, all I ever did was record the sequence I needed, then tinker with the resulting VB code.  That’s the capability Zoho just announced today: with a few clicks record, edit, re-run your macros, in the original Zoho Sheet or in any others you have access to.  Finally, Macros For Dummies like me :-) Here’s a summary video:

To the best of my knowledge no other spreadsheet can do it (other than GrandDaddy Excel)

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Download Day Progress: 40% of My Readers Are Using Firefox 3.0

After a really bad start the downloads are at full force.  Here on my blog, Firefox 3.0 already has 25% 40% share and growing by the minute. It’s actually higher, since these are daily stats, the early hours skew skew the stats towards other browsers.  Total Firefox share (all releases) is 60%.

Browser Market Share June 17 - http://sheet.zoho.com

(Chart by Zoho Sheet)

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SaaS and the Shifting Software Business Model

Barely two years ago we debated whether little-known Zoho was worth paying attention to. The majority view was that their Office applications were weak contenders that would never challenge the Microsoft suite’s position. I think I was in the minority stating that I really did not need more than 10-20% of Word or Excel’s functionality, but online-anywhere access and collaboration made the switch worthwhile.

Today Robert Scoble reports he is seeing online applications wherever he turns:

Today I’d say the skill set is shifting once again. This time to something like Zoho Writer or Google’s Docs. Because if you visit Fast Company’s offices in New York, for instance, they want to work with you on your copy in live time. Fast Fast Fast is the word of the day. It’s in our title, after all. Now some people still use Word, but last time I was there one of the editors told me he was moving everything over to Google’s Docs because it let him work with his authors much more effectively.

These are no longer yesterday’s wannabe applications. Zoho Sheet recently added Macro and Pivot Table support , going way beyond the average user’s needs (and certainly exceeding my spreadsheet skills, which are stuck somewhere at the Lotus 1-2-3 level). Zoho Writer today added an equation editor and LaTex support. Heck, I don’t even know latex from silicone, what is it doing in my editor? smile_wink
As I found out it’s important for Zoho’s academic and student users, once again, going way beyond an average user’s needs. (the other update today is mass import from Google Docs: nice, special delivery for Dennis, but I still would like to see a list of all my online docs, be it Zoho or Google, open them, edit them, and save to whichever format (and storage) I want to.)

Online applications have arrived, they’ve become feature-rich, powerful, and are the way software will be consumed in the future. They also change the business landscape.

Software margins choked by the cloud? – asks Matt Assay at CNet, pointing out a shift in Microsoft’s tone about cloud computing, recognizing that in the future they will host apps for a majority of their customers, and that their margins will seriously decline:

There’s not a chance in Hades that Microsoft will be able to charge more for its cloud-based offerings–not when its competitors are using the cloud to pummel its desktop and server-based offerings. This is something that Microsoft (and everyone else) is simply going to have to get used to. The go-go days of outrageous software margins are over. Done.

Matt cites Nick Carr who in turn recently discussed

…the different economics of providing software as a Web service and the aggressive pricing strategies of cloud pioneers like Google, Zoho, and Amazon.

This is fellow Enterprise Irregular Larry Dignan’s key take-away from the Bill & Steve show, too:

Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer acknowledged the fact that a lot of computing is happening in the browser and not in applications. He also said that the future of software will have “a much more balanced computational model” and that Microsoft will have to compromise.

Of course it isn’t just Office. The obvious business application is CRM, where Salesforce.com pioneered the concept and delivered the first On-demand product. But now a funny thing is happening: the pioneer is increasingly being replaced by more inexpensive competitors, including my Client, Zoho. Yes, SaaS disrupts the traditional software market, but there’s another equally important trend happening: the commoditization of software.

Commoditization is beneficial to customers, but a death-spiral to (most) vendors. Except for the few that drive commoditization. Zoho makes no secret of doing exactly that.

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Spreadsheet Macros and Pivot Tables: Google Says No. EditGrid Says No. Zoho Just Does It.

OK, OK, I admit, the title is a bit tongue-in-cheek… but real. Sophisticated Excel users have long complained that none of the online spreadsheets support Macros or Pivot Tables. The answer has so far been sorry, no can do…

Google hinted they would likely not do it, as reported by TechCrunch:

Will Google Spreadsheets ever have advanced features like pivot tables, macros or offline database integrations? (This was actually my question) Scott said they are constantly trying to find the balance between speed and utility. It will never be a heavy duty analytics program because that would be too heavy and bulky for the average user.

EditGrid’s David Lee also suggested Pivot Table are too difficult to do online. Well, maybe, but here they are both, in Zoho Sheet. Not that it comes a real surprise, in fact ever since the launch of Zoho DB pivot tables were just a matter of time, and Zoho has promised macros for some time, too.

I admit I probably don’t appreciate the importance of these two features, as I’ve said before, the level of my spreadsheet competency is probably stuck somewhere at Lotus 1-2-3. smile_wink. But even I used very limited Excel macros in the past, although typically be recording and editing afterward, rather than writing them in Visual Basic. Now Zoho Sheet can interpret VB directly, without using Microsoft’s back-end, and that means you can import your Excel spreadsheet, the macros no longer die. No other spreadsheet (other than Excel itself) supports VB macros.

Zoho launched a “marketplace” -sort of, being free – of VB macros at http://vbmacros.wiki.zoho.com/

As for pivot tables, they are an important analytical tool, but instead of reading me, why don’t you look at this demo video:

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Under the Radar Conference in Two Days – Save $100 Here.

Under the Radar is the Silicon Valley’s most established startup debut platform: a conference series organized by Dealmaker Media, covering business applications, social media, entertainment, mobility..etc. The next conference, focusing on The Business of Web Apps: Where the Web Goes to Work is only two days away and Dealmaker Media allowed me to announce a few discounted tickets. Enjoy the $100 blogger discount by registering at this link only.

32 startups will present in a rapid-fire format (correction: American Idol formatsmile_shades) they are grouped in categories of 4 each, in two parallel tracks (yes, you do have to pick one, but can switch back and forth), and each presenter has about 15 minutes. They get grilled by the judges and audience, and at the end of the conference the winners of each category are announced.

The categories and the selected startups are:

Track 1 Track 2
Business Calls Virtualization
Get Aggregated Manage Up
Happy Customers Virtual Worker
Work Together Marketing and Measurement

Last year I was on the Selection Committee to the Under the Radar Office 2.0 event, and as such reviewed over a hundred companies / products. Obviously not all could make it, so I am especially pleased to see some of them on this year’s list. Of course the real measure of success is that several presenters have since received funding, gained significant brand recognition and customers. Some are back this year as Graduate Circle sponsors:

3Tera | Blogtronix | Clarizen | Longjump | Nirvanix | Q-layer | Smartsheet.com | Transera

Other than the presentations, these events are also an excellent networking opportunity amongst the 400 or so attendees, so let’s look at the attendance statistics by provided by Dealmaker Media:

http://sheet.zoho.com

Concluding the Conference, Robert Scoble will be hosting a fireside chat with Amazon’s VP & CTO, Werner Vogels to discuss the future of apps in the cloud…where its heading, who will dominate and what you should be doing now to get ahead.

The event ends with a cocktail reception, and – here’s the bonus – participants are also invited to the Opening Reception the night before at Palo Alto’s Zibibbo.

So what are you waiting for? Grab a discounted ticked while they last.

Last, but not least, this year’s Selection Committee:

Pete Cashmore | Mashable
Robert Scoble | Scobleizer
Richard MacManus | ReadWriteWeb
Ismael Ghalimi | IT|Redux
Marshall Kirkpatrick | New Media Consultant
Josh Jaffe | Tech Confidential
Jon Burke | alarm:clock
Jeremy Toeman | Stage Two Consulting
Rafe Needleman | Webware
Leon Ho | Lifehack.org
Bryce T. Roberts | O’Reilly AlphaTech Ventures
Stowe Boyd | /Message
Brian Solis | bub.blicio.us
Rod Boothby | Innovation Creators
Eze Vidra | VC Cafe & Ask.com

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Would You Like Your Spreadsheet in French? German? Chinese? Japanese? Any Language?

Zoho Sheet is currently translated to 13 languages, although I hesitate to write thirteen, by the time you read this post, the number may jump:



If it jumps, it won’t be because Zoho has an army of translators busy typing away… nothing beats the wisdom of the crowds. Yes, Zoho outsourced crowdsourced the translation to their users: you and me. Would you like a to use an online spreadsheet in your language? Take a stab at it.

Anyone can pick the language of their choice and contribute translation in one of two modes. Power mode is nothing to write home about: a table where all all English messages are listed and you can write the translation right in the next field. Simple and efficient. Yet if I were to start translating, not being a power spreadsheet user, I would probably prefer to see the messages in context.
That’s where the WYSIWYG mode helps: you can use the live Zoho Sheet UI, and be guided by colored highlights as you translate different parts of the spreadsheet. (Note: if you’re reading this in a feed reader that does not display embedded graphics, please click through to the blog post, or you’re miss most of it).






The translation tool is not a mock-up, it’s the actual, fully functional spreadsheet (but don’t save your private data there). The wisdom of the crowd does not lack QA though: once a language’s translation progress reaches 80%, the Zoho team verifies it and makes it available to all spreadsheet users.

You can keep track of progress here: currently the Japanese version is most complete with 97.77%, followed by Simplified Chinese (92.15%), then Russian and Spanish at 91.20%. The lowest one is Hungarian, at 0.11% – it looks like someone just started it. I have no idea who it was… smile_wink

Update: See the Zoho Blog post and a demonstration video here.

Update (9/14): Wow, never underestimate the power of users! smile_wink A day later, my measly contribution of one single word to the Hungarian version grew to 13.62%. Even more impressive is what some Romanian users achieved: they requested Romanian added to the list in a comment yesterday; next thing I read today was this blog post – I don’t understand a single word, but the table shows 33.94% readiness, and finally, by the time I clicked through to check it myself, Romanian is up to 84.04%. Congratulations, you’re very close to having your own version!

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Zoho – the “Safer Office”

(Updated)
It’s somewhat ironic that in the very days I’ve just written about Duet, the joint SAP-Microsoft product, I am seriously thinking of escaping from Microsoft-prison, and switching to the most promising WebOffice (Office 2.0) suite. Perhaps I am part of the trend that prompted Vinnie to consider Duet a “nice-to-have” only, but generally too little, too late. (I actually disagree with him, Microsoft’s lock on corporate users is far heavier than on individuals or small businesses.. but that’s another discussion). Update: I’ve had this post half-written for a while, and now we’re getting warned left and right: “use Word in safe mode“, “don’t open Word attachments from Outlook” – the fix from Microsoft is not expected until mid-June. WTF? That’s three weeks away! I am sick of it, just as much as I am sick of Outlook forgetting where the address book is again, freezing on me frequently, and I am especially sick of MS crippling my computer via the automatic Windows updates. While I can’t get rid of Windows (just yet), I can certainly get rid of buggy unsafe Office. Office 2.0, here I come!

But what’s Office 2.0? First of all, terminology: some call it Office 2.0, others Web Office: the point is to have web-based applications that are accessible via a browser, without any download, that will store the data files on the web, too (sorry AjaxWrite, you are out), thus making all my stuff accessible from any computer, any time (as long as I have Internet access).

I’ve been using Writely for a while, so when I first found Zoho Writer, it was a non-event: both editors are equally good, convenience wins, no need to switch. Are any of these Microsoft Word killers? Scoble would laugh it off, they would not stand a feature-by-feature comparison. So what? I am part of the 90% crowd that barely uses 10% of Word’s functionality anyway. Then I found Thumbstack, a web-based “mini-powerpoint”, that allows me to share and collaborate on presentations easily. It does not do a lot of fancy things, amongst them the animated transitions – great, so now I can focus on substance in my presentations, rather than disruptive entertainment. What about a spreadsheet? Zoho Sheet is easy to use, and is aesthetically pleasing – a point so often missed. Is it as poweful as Excel? Of course not. But my Excel knowledge is probably on the level of Lotus 1-2-3 anyway, so for me, Zoho is the Excel-killer. I also have Stikipad, Calcoolate, Box.net … and a few others – all in my Firefox “Office 2.0″ bookmark.

The only problem is, when I am not on my own PC, sometimes I forget what’s where… and of course my data files reside with the various service providers, and I am not completely at ease with my digital life being so fragmented. See where I am heading? This move to the Web is liberating, but the plethora of different services causes a bit of chaos. There are two basic concepts to deal with the chaos:

  • Some of the Web storage companies, like Box.net, Omnipage, Openomny ..etc .. offer their open API’s to application providers, or make one-to-one tight integration and propose that we store all our data centrally, no matter which application accesses them. This is definitely a step forward, in terms of data management, but I am still dealing with point applications, without any integration between them..
  • The second concept obviously is one-stop-shopping: is there one service that offers ALL the MS Office capabilities (with the common simplification we just discussed)? The answer is increasingly yes: Zoho is releasing new applications at an impressive speed, and they come with 1G of storage. While I would not have left Writely for the sake of Zoho writer only, the abililty to have everyting under one hood is just too damn tempting. I can have Writer, Sheet, Presenter (due out in the very near feature) all from the same source, my data is stored at the same place, and although currently these applications require individual registrations, in the near future they will be available with a single sign-on.

The Zoho guys also promise integration between these applications, and I have reason to believe they will be able to pull it off – after all, they already have the Zoho Virtual Office, which incorporates several of these offices in an integrated fashion. AdvantNet, a 500-person company (of which about a 100 work on Zoho) runs entirely on Zoho Virtual Office. Currently Virtual Office is a downloadable server-side product accessible via the Web, but Zoho will offer a Web-hosted version in the future. Without integration an Office 2.0 is not really Office 2.0, just a collection of online applications. (For those who may not remember, it took Microsoft long years to achieve some level of integration in their Office; for several years and throughout several releases “integration” was copy/paste, and quite painful as such.)

Zoho leverages a good deal between the different product offerings: some parts of Virtual Office make it into the individual applications, and vice versa, some of the standalone products become part of Virtual Office. For example 1G storage is now an implicit part of using the applications, but Zoho Drive will soon be available as a standalone service, too. Ah, and let’s not forget about Zoho Creator, which is exactly what the name suggests: an easy web-application creator. They even go beyond traditional Office functionality, into the transactional world buy providing Zoho CRM, a web based, or downloadable full-featured CRM system. Fully featured means supporting the full sales-related workflow, including vendors and purchase orders all the way to sales orders and invoicing… definitely more then just a “glorified contact manager” as the other guy is often referred to.

Listening and responding to customers is an area a lot of companies fail nowadays – Zoho seems to excel here, too. As part of research for this post I looked at earlier reviews, and several features reported “missing” from Writer are already included in the current product. There is a direct feedback link from the applications, and the longest response time I experienced was a few hours – sometimes it’s just minutes. In comparison, a question I posted on the Writely forum over two weeks ago is still unanswered – I guess those guys are busy finding their place in Google.

Summing it up: Zoho pumps out new applications at an amazing rate (check the site for a few more I haven’t even mentioned). While one by one most of their applications are comparable to at least another web-based application, I am not aware of any other company offering such a complete suite, with that level of support and the realistic prospect of integrating the applications soon. For me the choice is obvious: Zoho is my Office 2.0 Suite.

I’d like to touch on another issue, namely the value of being first, “original” vs. doing something better the second time – but for the sake of readability I’ll break it out to another post – soon.

Update (5/27): Assaf, who made blog conversations really trackable by bringing us co.mment read my post and gave the Zoho Virtual Office a try. His overall impression is positvie, but he also includes some criticism – just as he should. One thing I learned is that Zoho listens and moves fast. Another obeservation (of mine) is that they seem to move in iterations:

  • The downloadable Zoho Virtual Office has been around for a while (they run a 500-person company on it)
  • Now they are focusing on individual “Office” components making them available on the Web
  • Finally they will relase their own hosted version of Virtual Office probably incorporating may improvements they’ve made in the standalone products.

Update (6/6 -yes, the famous 666!): Google Spreadsheet is out, the blogosphere is abuzz, and I won’t have the time to write today, but at least I wanted to point to Ismael’s article, since he arrives to the same conclusions I did…

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Open Source Hotel Rooms

I’ve just checked out of my hotel at SAPPHIRE 06 and am shocked looking at the bill:

You can click to view the original Zoho Sheet.

Since I am still in a “software state of mind” (and btw, will return to SAPPHIRE posts soon), I can’t help but draw the analogy to the software industry:  Support and Maintenance charges in the Enterprise Software business are in the 20-25% range.  There is an ongoing debate about the viability of Open Source as a business model but several companies are experimenting with giving away the product and focus on additional revenue sources, i.e. support, maintenance, training ..etc.

Since the hotel industry is up to 18% in surcharges, why not make a dramatic move, “opensource” the rooms and make their numbers on all these other (bogus) fees?    (OK, before I get ripped apart, yes, I do realize running hotel rooms has actual material costs vs. downloading software, and that the Open Source model is a bit more complex … in other word, my analogy is far from perfect, but hey, it’s Friday afternoon, I am waiting for my plane and can have a little fun, can’t I?)

I see a lot more potential surcharges (on top of  the free rooms), like: clean hotel fee, airconditioning surcharge, towel fees at the pool, hot water fee in the bathroom, warm water fee at the pool,  low-noise airconditioning surcharge, no-cigarette-smell fee in the nonsmoking rooms, Broadband fee (yes, I know they already have it, but this would be extra for connection that actually works vs. trickles), private room fee (that is when you don’t get the keys to a room already occupied like it happened to me), fast or medium service surcharges at the restaurant..etc.  Of course when you can’t sleep at night because the damn airconditioning is so noisy, or when your nonsmoking room smells.. .etc, you don’t have to pay.  This could become the feedback / QA mechanism for the hotel industry, a’la the Open Source community support / QA in software.

The opportunities are tremendous, and we should not stop at the hotel industry.  Open Source the World!