January 30, 2008

ZOHO : Amazing Web Based Application Developer

I believe I have found one of the most complete as well as easy to use Application Development platform. Why do I say so ? Consider the following features :
  1. A relational database for the persistent storage of data.
  2. A total GUI drag-and-drop front end forms builder with the ability to extend the logic with a scripting language.
  3. The database supports multiple tables linked through foreign keys and updateably both directly and from the application
  4. Easy integration with internet ( send mail ) and web.
But the real icing on the cake is as follows
  1. There is NO SOFTWARE to buy and install. Both the RDBMS as well as the IDE are web based.
  2. The final application can be embedded into any website that allows Javascript. No support required for CGI / Perl / PHP whatever on your webserver.
  3. The entire service is currently FREE !!! and I really hope that it stays that way

To see the kind of applications that can be built .... see

Contact Manager Application

or the

Bank Transaction Application

The two of them were developed and deployed in about three hours.

to know more about this visit the Zoho website.

This is extremely useful for developing small, lightweight applications.

January 27, 2008

Kollaborative Klassroom : A Web 2.0 Platform

Web 2.0 means different things to different people but perhaps the most authentic -- and original -- definition is given by Tim O'Reilly in his now classic articulation of What is Web 2.0.

One of the key aspects of his articulation was the premise that Web 2.0 is less of technology and more of a platform -- or if you use the analogy of "Hindu" sanatan dharma, less of a dogma and more of way of life !

The word platform -- like the word architechure -- is widely used and abused in the world of computers. So to make things easier for us, let us first look at a more traditional platform : the ERP as implemented in SAP or Oracle. An ERP consists of a collection of applications developed using a one or more technologies. At the core there would be a database management software and on top of this would reside application, integration and presentation software. Woven into this is a set of business logic which in a sense should be common to or at least relevent to a vast number of business entities.

This platform is now used to support a wide range of business requirements : finanancial accounting, human resource management, sales and distribution, material management etc., for companies ranging from steel plants to retail stores. The magic lies in the fact that the platform is flexibile enough to meet the requirements of almost any company. All that is needed is some customisation of the platform and some flexibility of the client company to adapt itself to the platform.

What are the components of a Web 2.0 platform
  1. A network of trust -- or as they say, a social network best exemplified by Orkut or Facebook and others of the same genre. Web 2.0 needs the wisdom of the crowd and a social network is perhaps the best way to create one.
  2. User generated content. A network cannot be built by one or a restricted group of people. That is why company sponsored networks -- like AOL or MSN could never keep up with the Internet. The content in the network must be generated by the users. The best example of this is of course Wikipedia where legions of users generated tons of content to overwhelm established brands like Brittanica or Encarta.
  3. Rich content. Human beings are accustomed to the audio-visual experience -- certainly not text. Hence the content in the network must consists of images, music and video. This is why image networks like Flickr and video networks like YouTube are essential icons of the Web 2.0 platform. Of late, 3D virtual worlds like Second Life offer a whole new experience in terms of rich content
  4. Web 2.0 is ever evolving and it is impossible to state that the platform is NOW ready for use. It will never be ready .. it will always be under construction and so the technology that will drive it has to compatible to what is loosely referred to as "mashup"s. There will never be a SAP for Web 2.0. There will be hundreds of small components -- and widgets are a good analogy -- which will be assembled and made to work together to deliver results.
  5. Finally -- and perhaps axiomatically -- Web 2.0 cannot run either on isolated machines or on restricted networks. By its very nature it must run on the internet : it is a living example of Sun's tagline "The network is the computer"
So to qualify for a Web 2.0 tag, a platform must
  • be based around a social network
  • encourage user generated content
  • support rich media
  • extend through mashups
The Kollaborative Klassroom is an experiment to develop a Web 2.0 platform to support management education at the Praxis Business School, Calcutta. It is based on
  • A social network based on technology from Ning that is used to support the community of students and faculty
  • A wiki created with Zoho that is used to create teaching material in a collaborative manner
  • Rich multimedia that is supported on FlickR, YouTube and the virtual world of Second Life
  • Extensions like widgets, calendars that can be integrated to the main platform.
In an earlier post I had discussed how the corporation may be change under the impact of Web 2.0. With the development of platform like the Kollaborative Klassroom the day when this will happen has just come closer !

January 05, 2008

Prinsep forgotten at Prinsep Festival

We should be grateful to INTACH and HSBC for taking a very positive step to revive and rejuvenate the Strand along the Hooghly by organising the Prinsep Festival at the forgotten Prinsep Ghat -- that wonderful piece of architecture on the river.

With the twin towers of the Second Hooghly Bridge towering in the background, it was a wonderful setting for the evening program featuring a very vigorous Manipuri Dance by Preeti Patel and an equally impressive interpretation of the Dasha Avataras in BharataNatayam by Bhanumati. Not being a dance critic I will not hazard a display of my ignorance by commenting on the quality of the presentations .. but from the perspective of a layman, it was a truly enjoyable experience.

What was a little disturbing though was the immense ignorance about James Prinsep and the reason why he was honoured by his fellow citizens !!

Neither the compere nor any of the other dignitaries had anything to say about the man who was the first to decipher the Brahmi Script and paved the way for our understanding of what is now known as the Rock Edicts of Emperor Ashoka !

Keeping aside the legendary Bharat ( after whom Bharat and Bharatvarsha is named ) it was Emperor Ashok who gave a physical shape to the political entity that has now evolved into the nation-state that is India today ... and it is his symbols and emblems that was rightly chosen by post-Independence India as its national logo : the Ashok Stambh !!

James Prinsep was an employee of the East India Company and worked in the mints at Banaras and Calcutta. He was passionate about ancient India "but the crowning achievement of all his labours over the decade was the decipherment of the Brahmi script and the consequent clearing up of many of the mysteries of ancient Indian history."

This script was used in Ashokan rock editics and so in a sense we should be grateful to his labours for introducing us to our own glorious heritage !! No wonder his fellow citizens had honoured him with this ghat on the river.

Mr Simon Wilson, the Deputy High Commissioner of the UK, was present at the Princep Festival last night and I was expecting at least him to mention this wonderful piece of fact to the luminaries ( or chatterati !) who had assembled ... but unfortunately he missed this opportunity to showcase the good work done by his countrymen for India. Perhaps he would be better prepared next year.

But all said and done, it was a wonderful experience.