Office in the Cloud
- By John K. Waters
I'm not ready to drink the Kool-Aid just yet, but there's this enormous,
round-pitcher-shaped guy banging on my office door. At first I thought he was a
relative, given his girth, but it turns out he's the proverbial harbinger of
things to come.
I'm referring, albeit, incredibly obliquely, to Web 2.0, the only thing
anybody in IT seems to be talking about these days (except maybe for the pending
Windows Vista release). Ajax; mashups; wikis; the Programmable Web; ad hoc,
knowledge-worker-built biz apps; they're even talking about this stuff on NPR!
Consider last week's small but very well executed Office 2.0 Conference. The two-day event,
which was held at the St. Regis Hotel in San Francisco, drew about 450 attendees
and featured 105 speakers. I wasn't surprised to see Google, WebEx, and
iNetOffice listed among the 56
corporate sponsors, but IBM, SAP, BEA Systems,
Hewlett-Packard, Apple Computer, and the law firm of Fenwick and West? Clearly, the 2.0 thing has
permeated the corporate IT zeitgeist.
The soul of this event was Ismael Ghalimi, conference host with the most and
relentless pre-conference emailer. (I got about 50.) Ghalimi is the CEO and
co-founder of Intalio, a Redwood City,
CA-based open-source BPMS vendor. In his post-conference blog
posting, Ghalimi offered his definition of Office 2.0. It is, he wrote, an
''Office productivity environment enabled by online services used through a Web
browser. By storing data online and relying on applications provided as Web
services, it fosters collaboration and extends mobility, while promoting a
user-centric model that fuels innovation and increases productivity.'' Ghalimi
has also posted some attendee
comments on the Web; they're worth checking out.
One of the big announcements at the show came from conference sponsor
iNetOffice. The Kirkland, WA-based developer of Internet-based document
solutions disclosed that it is joining forces with ShareMethods, a South Orange, NJ-based
maker of an on-demand sales-and-marketing-document management product. The two
companies are collaborating to bring online office apps to market and to develop
Ajax mashup recommendations. The goal of the partnership, the companies said, is
to provide ''the next wave of software services'' to improve the efficiency and
flexibility of working with documents online in multiple, on-demand
iNetOffice is no newcomer to the world of browser-based
apps. The company has been offering its iNetWord
online document and Web-page editor for several
The conference exhibitor gallery featured a range of vendors demoing their
Web-based wares on big iMac 24-inch monitors. Most were small startups, but
companies like SAP and BEA were there, too. And a number of vendors showed off
their products during an event called the Demo Blitz. Among my favs:
BEA's trio of knowledge-worker tools, code named ''Project Graffiti,''
''Project Builder,'' and ''Project Runner.'' I got a private demo of these
tools, which won't be available until sometime next year. They're based largely
on tech acquired with BEA’s recent purchase of portal provider Plumtree Software
and business process management (BPM) vendor Fuego. Their purpose: to bridge the
gap between the ad hoc, spontaneous collaboration in which most knowledge
workers regularly engage and the technologies that support those activities.
'The knowledge-worker gaps are one of the big opportunities for Enterprise
2.0,' Ajay Gandhi, director of product marketing in BEA's business interaction
division, told me. ''Web 2.0 has shown that today's mass market can build
mashups, share photos, and create taxonomies. So people are now comfortable with
those concepts, with the idea that the users themselves are going to build their
own apps. The question now is, how do you bring the benefits of these concepts
into the enterprise with scalability, governance accountability, and all those
other things that the enterprise still needs?''
Menlo Park, CA-based Coghead has a similar plan to imbue
non-coders with coder-like powers. The company is providing a simple, intuitive,
drag-and-drop tool designed for tech-savvy business people who need to create,
manage, and deliver their own Web-based apps. It's a kind of do-it-yourself
service aimed at small and medium sized businesses and workgroups in a larger
organization. I loved this line from the Coghead press release: ''Most companies
are facing software rigor mortis, shackled by inflexible and monolithic packaged
applications.'' (Now that's just good writing.)
I spoke with Paul McNamara, Coghead's CEO, on the exhibit floor. 'We're
enabling the people closest to the business to create their own Web-based
services,' McNamara said. 'It's about eliminating the gap between the people who
create applications and the people use them.'
I also liked the SmartSheet online collaboration
software. Another Kirkland, Washington-based company, SmartSheet demoed its
namesake on-demand Web app, which is a project manager built around a hosted
spreadsheet and email. It allows users to combine sub-projects into bigger
projects; to send one-time or recurring update requests both within and outside
the organization, and manages outstanding requests; and to share up-to-date
status reports with colleagues in real time.
It may sound boring, but the FreshBooks online
invoicing and time-tracking service is going to turn the heads of SMBs. The Toronto,
Ontario-based startup's Web app allows users to create, send, and manage
invoices; to track time for billing; to send invoices by email or snail mail; to
accept payment with PayPal, Authorize.Net, and other services; and to send out
invoices and late payment notices automatically.
Vyew's free Web
conferencing software also caught my eye. The Berkeley, CA-based company makes a
free, 100 percent browser-based collaboration app designed to allow users to
share views of Word docs, PowerPoint pages, and Excel spreadsheets; JPEGs and
PDFs; and whiteboards—in real time.
Other demos and products worth noting:
- TechDirt's Insight
Community, an ad-hoc analyst network where enterprises can connect with and
solicit opinions from blogger experts.
- Wufoo's easy online forms.
- Trovix's recruiting and hiring
- Caspio's Bridge
site-building tool for the enterprise and small business
- Synthasite's collaborative
Web dev platform
- SiteKreator's site-building
- Preezo's online
- Koral's content collaboration
- Etelos's online application
''store,'' where businesses can find online applications. (Etelos lists them,
but doesn't host them.)
- System One's business wiki
Google proved to be an inadvertent conference buzz kill when the Mountain
View, CA-based Searchosaurus announced that it would be offering Google Docs and
Spreadsheets, a word processing and spreadsheet bundle, free over the Net. That
announcement contributed at least a little to the feeling among some industry
watchers that even this market will belong to the bigger players.
This was the first Office 2.0 event, but I suspect it will not be the last.
Today, there are more than 100 Office 2.0 services hosted on the Internet.
BTW: I wanted to give a shoutout to the folks at LiveKiosk, who provided the refurbished IBM
ThinkPads in the Office 2.0 Conference press room. The machines were running a
streamlined version of Linux with a locked-down version of the Firefox Web
browser as the only UI. That combo was originally developed by the company for
hurricane and other relief shelters. It's designed to turn older, used computers
into freely-available, no-maintenance public Web stations that provide quick and
easy Internet access to relief workers and refugees. The software runs from a
CD-ROM, and the ThinkPads in the press room had no hard drives or batteries.
John K. Waters is a freelance writer based in Silicon Valley. He can be reached