Porting Zoho Apps to Google App Engine

Tech Analysis: Deploying applications created using Zoho Creator on Google App Engine is an easy process that works as promised. However, while the process might be good for simple apps, it could be risky for mission-critical software targeted for Google App Engine. One thing to note is that although using Zoho Creator to build applications for Google App Engine may allow application developers to skip having to learn Python, it would benefit programmers to learn the language.

It was bound to happen: As more and more Web technologies are released, some will grow and mature, while some will disappear. And some will start to come together.

Take the case of Zoho Creator and Google App Engine. For those of you who haven't yet tried out Zoho Creator (which has been out for about three years now and is up to Version 3.0), you're missing out. I've been playing around with Zoho Creator for quite some time, and what strikes me is the ease with which you can get a fully functional online Web application up and running, without sacrificing power. If you want quick-and-not-very-dirty, you can do it. But if you want to roll up your sleeves and start to really customize your application (such as by writing your own HTML and scripts), you can do that, too.

Zoho Creator is part of a bigger project, simply called Zoho, which was released in 2005. Zoho is an entire online suite of office applications, including (as of this writing) e-mail, word processing, spreadsheets, presentations, notebooks, wiki, organizers and planners, chat software, project management, invoicing, and even CRM.

Click here to read about how open-source developers have embraced Google App Engine.

However, while the company called AdventNet was busy creating Zoho, Google was building its own online spreadsheet, and would later acquire a company that created an online word processor. The end result is what we know today as Google Docs.

These two office suites are clearly competitors, and the Web is rich with blogs and articles comparing the two as people try to determine which is best for their own purposes. For this article, I'm not going to take part in that particular discussion (or dispute, as the case may be). Instead, I'm going to focus on an interesting item that has grown out of the two. Google, while offering its own competing suite of office tools, also-as of mid-2008-has its own cloud-based application engine, Google App Engine, or GAE.

That's where this gets interesting. In late December, Zoho announced that applications created with Zoho Creator could be deployed on GAE.

Porting to Google App Engine

As I said, I've been using Zoho Creator for a while, so I decided to try porting an application to GAE. I'm happy to report that the process worked just as it was supposed to. For this test, I started out with one of the basic skeleton applications that Zoho Creator makes, a simple customer support form.

The process of deploying to Google App Engine is quite simple. There's a drop-down menu labeled "Deploy in Google App Engine." When you click that, Zoho Creator asks for your Google ID and reminds you to register the application with GAE. You then click the Generate button, which brings up a page from which you can download your application.

What you get is a .zip file containing all the files you'll upload to GAE. If you've developed for GAE, you'll see all the usual files you'd expect (such as app.yaml, and some .py files containing Python code; these Python files are a bit cluttered, but they're filled with some solid-looking code).

The next step is to upload the files to your own area on GAE. The official Zoho Creator blog calls this process "a bit geeky at this time," but it's really not that big of a deal. True, you have to upload the files, and I hope in the future Zoho will have an interface right on its Web site that will transfer the files for you automatically. But even for now, it's really not that bad.

In addition, in the end, the applications work just as you would hope they do. Along with trying out my own simple applications, I tried the two sample applications that run on both Zoho Creator and GAE linked to by the official blog. They look slightly different in layout, but the functionality is the same.

But is that all there is? Let's analyze this a bit further.