A colleague has a home-grown application in Google Documents, that involves users filling in a form, alternative questions being asked depending on what the answers are, and then outputting a recommendation based upon the values entered.

More people are using it and the 'business value' is in the logic in the calculations themselves. He wants to move from this spreadsheet approach to something more robust where he can store their data (e.g. in a relational db) and extend the logic and workflow of the application.

He isn't 'technical' as such and the investment in learning a full-scale programming language and all the related topics (e.g. data modelling / how HTTP request and response works etc) is too much for him, so suggesting rewriting in PHP / ASP.NET etc. isn't attractive and equally he can't currently afford to employ someone to do this.

Is there a middle ground anyone can recommend that is a step up from effectively working in an online spreadsheet, with more flexibility etc. without having to go all the way into becoming a programmer?

It seems like a fairly large gap between business users being able to create applications in spreadsheets, to the IT department programming a proper web-application, so I hope there may be some 'application creator' tools that try to fill the gap?

The main option I've found so far which appears to meet this need is Zoho app creator https://www.zoho.com/creator/ I haven't used this before, so would be interested in any advice on this too.

  • Added bounty not because of the quality of existing answers (which are good), but because I'd like to bring a wider set of views and answers, especially given comments in existing answers on the lines of "This is an area in dire need of a solution!"
    – Kris C
    Aug 9, 2011 at 10:55

5 Answers 5


This has been a question without a good answer for many years, a niche that's been wanting a solution no matter what the technology was at the time. Pre-web solutions (in the PC/Microsoft realm) included Lotus 1-2-3 and then Excel macros, and later MS Access and VBA. I believe that was somewhat the idea behind InfoPath as well, though it wasn't very well explained or advertised.

One current web-age answer may lie in WebMatrix; though it may require a little deeper dive into "programming" than your colleague is ready for - it's worth a look. I'm sure there are others, especially in the non-MS realm, about which others may suggestions.

  • Hmm - we may have someone who knows InfoPath here - hadn't got round to investigating what that was so will add it to my list. WebMatrix is also on my personal 'to investigate' list, so will take a look
    – Kris C
    Aug 6, 2011 at 11:12
  • I've used InfoPath. Its a form application. You can design your own forms (similar to XFDL or PDF forms), complete with digital signatures, dynamic views, etc. It also connects to a variety of different data sources, to submit and receive data from. So, you can connect it to an access/SQL database to retrieve customer information, then save the form to a document library on SharePoint, and have data-bound columns in the document library. VERY powerful. Aug 12, 2011 at 11:43
  • We use WebMatrix and it's powerful and easy for a programmer, but I wouldn't recommend for this project. There's not a bit of drag and drop to it, so you have to be familar with HTML, vb, css, etc.
    – Knox
    Aug 15, 2011 at 18:43

If this was an Excel spreadsheet, I would not have hesitated and suggested Infopath. Not being familiar with Google doc's methods, but being familiar with people who build applications in Excel(Hear! Hear!), Infopath + Acces/SQL Server express generally made it somewhat painless.

If you the kind that likes text tutorials. . .

If you prefer video tutorials . . .

I wish you luck. This is an area in dire need of a solution!


Microsoft just recently released Visual Studio LightSwitch. I've not tried it yet, but they advertise what it sounds like your friend is looking for - business apps with no coding.

  • I never tried Lightswitch, but did a fair amount of research around it and it looked very promising and powerful. In addition to a 'no coding' solution, you can write vb or c# code in it and have the full power of ASP.Net. What ultimately steered me away from it and to WebMatrix was that Lightswitch relies on Silverlight technology which doesn't currently and probably will never run on iPad.
    – Knox
    Aug 15, 2011 at 18:40
  • Oh come now, I'm sure Silverlight is next on deck right after Flash. Oh, wait...
    – squillman
    Aug 15, 2011 at 18:49
  • Assigned bounty to this answer as it brought this option that I'd somewhat discounted, back into my thoughts. I'll hold off accepting an answer for now however until I can pull together the various options so far and those I've found elsewhere, and discussed with my colleague
    – Kris C
    Aug 16, 2011 at 9:10
  • I haven't given it a try so far. To me, it sounds an awful like Infopath. . .
    – surfasb
    Aug 16, 2011 at 12:28
  • @surfasb I thought the same thing, myself. Infopath on steroids. I've seen some good things done with Infopath, though.
    – squillman
    Aug 16, 2011 at 14:41

Many years ago I worked in an environment called 4th Dimension, which was a database with easy programming. You may want to look into something like Access or an open source equivalent.

What used to be a cool tool for this was Hypercard. Sadly, it's been gone for years. You may have luck google'ing 'Hypercard replacement'. The best link i got for that was LiveCode but it's not free.

LiveCode is open source and FREE (as of July 2013).

  • The community (open-source) edition of LiveCode is freely available. If you want to create commercial software, you need to buy a license. Licenses cost at least US$ 500, depending on your requirements.
    – Mark
    Dec 2, 2013 at 23:55

It sounds like MS Access will fill what you need nicely. Access has a very powerful form creation tool that can do most things you want with wizards. There might be some tweaks you need to do, however VBA is really easy to learn and it doesnt sound like you are doing anything complex.

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