Last night I went to the Under the Radar event held at SAP Labs in Palo Alto on the topic of Office 2.0. Four companies--CollectiveX , EchoSign , Zoho and WetPaint—presented their browser-based applications that fit with the Office 2.0, browser-based apps concept.TechCrunch mogul Mike Arrington (at left) moderated the event and a panel of judges-- Peter Rip, Managing Director of Leapfrog Ventures; Sam Schillace, founder of Google’s Writely; Etay Gafni, Director, Technology Innovation Center at SAP; and Ismael Ghalimi, ITRedux blogger and CEO of Intalio--provided color commentary, critiquing the products.
Prior to the demos, Arrington and the panel discussed the implications of Office 2.0. Rip called Office 2.0 applications a threat to existing revenue models, but that certain classes of enterprises would be challenged in adopting them due to concerns such as auditing and security.
Schillace said that he focused on dealing with smaller problems and executing on them really well in developing Writely. “Ultimately, we’ll get to more full featured products,” he said, but the browser is not ready yet to handle full-featured applications. “We need another generation of browser and Flash development,” Schillace said.
Rip said that replicating existing software as Web applications isn’t the future. Web 2.0 is a framework and a platform shift, he added, and people will extend the platform to make it more useful and new applications will emerge. However, porting applications isn’t the best user of the new platform. “Products will be inferior to legacy competitive products because the platform is not optimized for that application,” Rip concluded.
Ghalimi said that it really doesn’t matter if Microsoft Office is replicated. “Most of the the features in Office are very advanced. You don’t need the full power of Word to write a document…the same for a spreadsheet.” Ghalimi has been working sans Microsoft Office, using Office 2.0 products, for the last nine months.
Wetpaint is designed to let mere mortals create and contribute to Web sites. According to the company spiel, Wetpaint "combines the best aspects of wikis, blogs, forums and social networks so anyone can click and type on the Web." The judges liked the look and feel and flow of Wetpaint, but it also seemed like just one of many products with a similar set of AJAXed blog and wiki features.
CollectiveX provides organized groups with a private place for fostering communication and networking between group members, such as associations and alumni groups. We have been described as Yahoo Groups meets LinkedIn, said CollectiveX CEO Clarence Wooten. The judges like CollectiveX, and viewed the space that the hosted service provides as underserved--not going after 14-years olds, said Schillace.
EchoSign automates the process of getting documents, such as sales contracts, signed, tracked and filed. It has a document management system that doesn't raise its ugly head. EchoSign is focused on sales, human resources, contract administration and compliance documents. Like the other Office 2.0, EchoSign is a subscription-based service.
The panel of judges were impressived by the service, but wondered how it plugs into other applications as part of a business process. "It's a rogue enterprise application," said CEO Jason Lempkin. The service doesn't intergrate with other applications in an extended business process. Documents are output as a PDF and then can be poured into other systems. Not exactly frictionless, but ideal for the day-to-day flow of documents that need signing that aren't part of a complex workflow.
Zoho was the final presenter, and the most complete Office 2.0 suite, with spreadsheet, database, presentation and word processor modules. It showed that much of the functionality in Microsoft Office can be delivered in a hosted application. Peter Rip noted that the killer app of Web 1.0 was email, and in Web 2.0 collaboration is king. Zoho's document creation framework isn't natively collaborative, but more bolted on, he said.
All in all, good evidence that the Web as a platform can challenge the incumbent rich client approach. But, it shouldn't be a religious argument about applications in the cloud or on the client. For some applications a hybrid model is the ideal solution in today's environment.