Archives for April 2008


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

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


Windows Barely Live Mesh and Why TechCrunch Needs a New Tab

Steve Gillmor redefined TechCrunch today with a thoughtful but loooong (1709 words!) post on Windows Live Mesh. Others come to rescue translating him:

Robert Scoble: But, let’s translate Gillmor: Microsoft Mesh is fascinating. Agreed.

Phil Wainewright: Steve turns that around and points out that what Mesh is really about is connecting the desktop into the cloud

Mike Arrington: I’m pretty sure he’s saying Mesh = good.

Even Microsoft’s Steve Clayton is lost:

I got lost about two thirds of the way in to this post from Steve Gillmor but the first third was a great read. Actually the whole thing was but I just got a bit lost as I think some of the things going on in Steve’s fast thinking brain didn’t quite make it through to the keyboard so you’re left having to assume some things. I’m assuming he likes Mesh though. I think he does.

Commenters on TechCrunch were ruthless, I won’t even begin quoting them. But don’t get me wrong: this is a good article, which would have been a great fit for ReadWriteWeb, but the TC crowd expects short, to-the-point, fairly descriptive posts. In the words of TC owner Mike Arrington:

Steve is an acquired taste. his writing isn’t efficiently packaged into bite sized chunks like a lot of people have come to expect. but if you decide to give it the attention it needs, you may find that you come away a little bit smarter after you’re finished.

Yes. And perhaps Mike is trying to redefine TC’s style himself. But you have to know your readers, Mike – perhaps a a new tab for Essays would be appropriate – or if you want Gillmor’s writing part of the main flow, a graphical “grab a coffee this is a long one” icon would help.

Now, on to the bigger question, why Live Mesh is just Barely Live. (And yes, this will be a long post, too, but due to the screenprints.)

The first leaked news declared this a solution to “sync everything with everything”. Then came Amit Mital, Live Mesh General Manager with a visionary video and announcement at the Web 2.0 Expo last week, adding towards the end: initially it will sync only Windows PC’s, adding more platforms and devices over time. Ahh! So it’s a … Foldershare for now.

Minutes after the presentation I was chatting with a startup CEO who reminded me he had seen a similar video from Microsoft years ago: kid playing, Mom capturing video on cell-phone, family watching it almost real-time on various devices, executive-type Dad watching video on his laptop at an airport feeling “almost at home”. Great video, and yes, it was conceptually familiar, but what has materialized of it?

Live Mesh will be great when it really happens, but for now it’s largely waporware: pre-announcement, typical Microsoft-style. And now, if you’re still here, why don’t you follow me through the hoops of trying to sign up for (Barely) Live Mesh.

Google Search and several Microsoft blogs point to so that’s where we start:

Hm… I could never figure out why I so often get signed out of Live Network (good old passport style), and if that’s the case why can I not sign back here. But that’s OK, we just take a detour to, sign in and come back to

I though I had just signed in, but fine, let’s do it again. Oops:

The sign-in button changes to sign up – as in sign up for a waiting list. Not fun.. but let’s do it anyway. Btw, before the wait-list screen there was another screen where I had to agree to some terms – sort of usual for actually using a service, but for getting on a waiting list?

Now we’re in something called Microsoft Connect. Is this the same thing? Who knows…let’s click Register (but why, after sign-up, sign-in, agree, now register? WTF?)

I’m starting to really not like this. So far I’ve been presented with a maze of registration, confirmation, you-name-it screens, and I don’t know where the hell I am. Let’s backtrack a bit.

Oh, several screens above, at the waiting list signup, it stated on the next screen I should click Connection Directory, a small option on the top, not the main Register for Connect link… but who reads small prints, all screens should offer enough navigational clues to not get me lost. OK, redoing, now…

This jungle is the Connection Directory. No sign of Live Mesh, at least not on the first page. Text search to the rescue: there we are… somewhere towards the bottom (scroll way down) there is Live Mesh Tech Preview! Voila! (or not). The button to click is Apply Now! As if I hadn’t done it a zillion times already…

Hm.. I can do this now with my eyes closed… click..

Geez, this looks like a plain old BS signup form again. I’ve had it. Done. I let others experiment with Microsoft’s Windows Dead Mesh. Let me know when it’s Live. For real.


Zoho Launches in China @

Just days ago we read that China, already the world leader in cellphone use, has surpassed the USA as the No. 1 nation in Internet users., so of course it’s a huge market that SaaS providers would love to enter. What better way than have the market come to you?

That’s what happened to Zoho when their Beijing Office was contacted by PC Stars, the largest online distributor in China with more than 2400 resellers and over 1000 system integrators. The are assembling a portal at Baihui, currently offering specific search and productivity tools. Their search products appear to be geared to product groups like software, hardware, games and automotive.

For the productivity apps they teamed up with Zoho, who would provide white-label versions of their products. After a few months of private beta testing, Baihui built a new data center (*), and today they are launching the Zoho Suite under their own brand:

These apps will be offered free to individual users, just like they are in the US, and CRM will have a similar pricing, too: free for the first 3 users, then 99RMB /user/months, which is about $14, close to the US pricing. (I would have thought Chinese prices to be less, but they know what they’re doing…) Baihui will later add other Zoho (Business) products.

Zoho’s current user base is 800,000 adding 100k about every 5-6 weeks, and they certainly expect that number to jump with the China deal.

OEM-ing their product is not unusual for Zoho, and especially for the parent company: there are other deals under consideration, and if you own a D-Link access point, chances are the wifi-manager software you have is from Adventnet. I plan to write a backgrounder on Adventnet, their approach to business and their international presence in the near future.

(* Please note, Baihui’s investment is into their own data center, running the Zoho Apps, not Zoho’s parent company, Adventnet, as (first) incorrectly reported on TechCrunch.) Update: it’s now fixed on TC.


I Could Win this Primary

Oh, Twitter is fun:

Breaking News Alerts
BreakingNewsOn With less than 0% of votes returned in PA, Clinton leads with 66% (1,649 votes) in the Democratic race; Obama at 34% (838 votes). 16 minutes ago from web Icon_star_empty reply to BreakingNewsOn

Zoli Erdos
zoliblog Gotta love that less than 0%. Solid lead for Clinton 6 minutes ago from twhirl Icon_star_empty Icon_trash

zoliblog Hey, I can get 66% of less than 0% 🙂 5 minutes ago from twhirl Icon_star_empty


Free Mini-Office from Microsoft?

There’s some renewed chatter about Microsoft’s plans for a subscription-based Office and even a free, ad-based alternative. Some rumors put the subscription price in the $12/ month range, which I believe is way too expensive for basic productivity tools, hence the need for another business model: offering MS Works for free, supported by advertising.

MS Works is nowadays widely considered a “dumbed down” version of its big brother, the real MS Office suite, but I beg to disagree.

Two decades ago MS Works was my main productivity suite: I was happily crunching numbers, generating charts, including them as well as data from my database in word-processing documents. In other words, I had a perfectly working and lightweight integrated office suite at the time when Word, Excel and Powerpoint were fragmented individual applications not talking to each other. For all its capabilities Works was very lightweight, I could use it on a laptop with 640K memory (that’s K, not MB!) and two 720k floppy drives – no hard-disk at all.

I can’t say this enough, Microsoft had a perfectly working integrated suite 20 years ago, which should have become what Office is today. But I guess you need bloatware to charge bloated prices, so Microsoft shoved Works aside, favoring the higher margin, high-end but fragmented products, which took years to become a true Office Suite.

The 80/20 rule applies for the MS Office Suite, in fact I’d rather say 90/10: 90% of users only need 10% of the functionality. MS Works has that – but now that it’s making a comeback (?), an ironic situation develops: the new online challengers like Google Docs and the Zoho Suite were targeting the mainstream Office Suite, and while in terms on features (needed or not) they are still behind Word, Excel..etc, the comparison to Works would quite possibly have a different outcome. I wouldn’t be surprised if Zoho Writer, Sheet and Show turned out to offer richer functionality than Works, and then we did not even look at the collaboration, mobility offered by the fact that they are Web-based.

Conclusion: MS Works should have been a winner 20 years ago, and ever since. Now it’s too little, too late.


Stop the Idiotic Laptop Searches


TV news in the background – they talk about how we can expect more laptop searches at airports, agents searching for child pornography.  This is insane.  I am not supporting child pornography, but fighting it should not be the mission of airport security or customs officials.  Air travel is already bad enough, searching through today’s huge hard disks would bring it to a screeching halt.



Windows 7 = Vista Final

I like Jason Hiner’s prediction @ TechRepublik: Microsoft will leapfrog Vista, release Windows 7 early, and change its OS business:

And that’s why Microsoft will ultimately try to quell the embarrassing Windows Vista debacle by making a bold move with Windows 7 to win back customer loyalty and generate positive spin for its most important product.

What will happen next?

My prognosis is that Microsoft will use smoke and mirrors to conjure up an early release of Windows 7, the next edition of the world’s most widely-used operating system. Then they will quietly and unofficially allow IT departments to migrate straight from Windows XP to Windows 7.

Yes, we’re almost there. Except that it doesn’t take care of customers (including yours truly) royally sc***ed by Vista. I wasn’t kidding when I said:

Windows 7, whenever it comes, should be released as “Vista Final”, free to all Vista victims along with Microsoft’s letter of apology.


WebWare 100 Proves We Don’t Like Work

The 2008 Webware 100 winners have just been announced.  Over half the votes went to the top 10 winners:  Facebook,Firefox, Google, iTunes, MySpaceYouTube, DeviantArt, Friendster, Gaia Online and Maxthon.

Here’s the full winner list, the top 100 web applications selected by 1.9 million voters.

Now, what about that “we don’t like work”?  Well, out of all catogories  Productivity attracted the least active voting, only 64,000 votes in total.  Incidentally it’ sthe category I am typically interested in – a sure sign that I must have my head screwed on the wrong way. smile_omg  This was also the category fatally skewed last year, at Webware 2007, when it was lumped together with Commerce, and of course got dominated by giants like Amazon, eBay and PayPal.

This year I’m glad to see Productivity become a category on its own, and the winners are (click on the icons for detail): 

Congratulations to all the winners, many of whom will be present at the Web 2.0 Expo starting in San Francisco tomorrow.

The Startup Naming Game

Ben Kepes drew my attention to Viisibility, which appears to be a very interesting web based supply chain management / data clearing-house / hub type of a business.

At first reading I completely misread the name, thinking it was Visibility.  Wow, what a great choice, I thought – a simple, common word that perfectly describes what the business is all about.  But wait! try to Google it: it’s a bit difficult to find the relevant entries from the 47,100,000 hits Goggle found…   That brings up question number one:

Do common words that describe your business perfectly but are hard to Google make good brands?

Robert Scoble has a simple rule: only pick names that do not come up on the major search engines at all.

But as it turns out I was wrong, just missing that extra “i”: the name is actually Viisibility.  That brings up a whole new issue, which is my question number two:

Can intentionally misspelled common words that in  pronunciation describe the product, but are only available as domains and are only unique on search because of the “typo” actually become Brands?

Last time I asked the question, the majority vote was yes (albeit with few participants).  I used Vyew as an example, which I still think is a good name.   But Viisibility’s case is a bit more complex, as shown by these two homepages:

  • Viisibility: managing supply chains.
  • Visiblity: ERP for Complex Manufacturing.

Oops. Not only there’s another company with a similar name, they are also in the same space, “differentiated” only by a typo.  I’m afraid it’s not much of a differentiation, I can’t help but think Viisibility is a poor choice for a brand.

But forget the extreme case above, I’d like to return to the generic question, and run the poll again, especially as I’ve gained a few marketers as readers since last time.  If you read this in a feed reader, there’s a chance the poll does not work, so please click through the blog title to vote:



Update (4/22): The Importance of a Good Name @TechCrunch.


The Citi Never Sleeps this morning:

Error 404: No target servlet configured for uri: /cards/wv/

The Citi Never Sleeps. Except when it does. thumbs_down

Update:  Service is back now.  The Citi woke up.