Thanks to Increasing Options, Web Is the New Desktop

Ann All

OK, call us cynical.


It's clearly no coincidence that the company featured in this Baseline story reporting a highly positive experience with Google Apps is Capgemini, the services provider which in September inked a deal to provide support to companies using the premium edition of Google's software.


Still, the story doesn't gloss over the software's possible drawbacks. Agents at a 165-seat Capgemini call center in Kansas use Google Apps to create shared documents that don't necessarily fit the format of the company's CRM application. Capgemini understandably was concerned that this information wasn't being captured in a more structured way. So agents and their managers reached a compromise -- managers periodically review the Google docs to pull relevant information to be added to the CRM system.


This experience points to why so much enterprise information ends up in "silos" rather than in central repositories where it can be more easily accessed. Software doesn't necessarily allow users to input all of the information they need to do their jobs, and it's not easy to integrate it with software that does. This problem gives IT staffs fits, which is why Nicholas Carr posits that the biggest value of Web-based software may lie in its ability to simplify IT infrastructure.


As Capgemini found, it also holds tremendous promise in facilitating collaboration. ZDNet blogger David Berlind wrote earlier this year that he found using a combination of Google Docs and Google Spreadsheets "like pure collaborative oxygen" when compared to the more unwieldy coupling of Microsoft Office and Sharepoint Server.


This growing sense that Web-based alternatives are more flexible than traditional desktop applications is why so many companies, including IBM and Yahoo, are rushing into this space. And of course, Microsoft isn't exactly ignoring the trend, having rolled out Office Live about a year ago.


One of the latest entrants is Live Documents, a Web-based software platform developed by an Indian firm headed by (cue the irony) Sabeer Bhatia, an executive who earned a fortune when he sold his Hotmail e-mail application to Microsoft in 1997. Bhatia tells CIO Today that "Live Documents does for documents what Hotmail did for e-mail."


As CIO Today notes, Live Documents trumps Google Apps by offering an optional desktop client application that plugs in to Office and can connect Word, Excel, and PowerPoint to the Internet for online collaboration. It also automatically synchronizes any document changes made on the desktop or over an Internet connection so that online and offline versions of the same document are always identical.


The lack of offline functionality has long been one of the main criticisms of Google Apps. Zoho just added the same online/offline synchronization capability to its Web-based word processing application, Zoho Writer, using Google Gears. This neat trick makes Zoho "the most formidable competitor to Google's own Google Apps suite," reports PC World.


Why doesn't Google use Google Gears to do the same thing for its Apps? Beats us, but we won't be surprised to see the search giant address this omission soon.

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