Desktop Integration and the Browser


Everybody, it seems, is moving to the browser.


Of course, the browser is a pretty safe bet, in some ways. So when Microsoft announced this week it would offer Word, Excel, PowerPoint and OneNote online, the response was a collectively mumbled, "Finally!"


"You kind of saw this coming," Kyle McNabb, an analyst at industry research firm Forrester Research, told CIO Today.


I admit: This isn't your typical integration story.


Of course, there's always been this notion that one day, we'd be able to do everything via the browser. But I'd never really thought much about it as integration per se until last summer when I interviewed Francis Carden, the CEO of OpenSpan, a solution that offers desktop application integration with legacy systems. Carden put it this way:

"Today's desktops share a number of common problems: Silos of applications that don't integrate with each other; business processes that are still very manual and don't connect to the user desktop; and a wide range of legacy applications that aren't meeting the needs of today's enterprise .... What does the fact that copy-and-pasting is still the most common form of data integration between applications tell us about the current enterprise desktop?"

It really would be nice if I didn't have to open an office suite just to write an article.


Of course, Google has long offered an online productivity suite -- Google Documents -- which I never entirely trusted simply because my Internet connection isn't trustworthy. I needed to know that document would also be on my desktop. In May, Google promised to offer this offline function via Google Gears -- which, I confess, I haven't yet tried. But definitely that addresses the obstacle I had to online word processing software.


Microsoft, possibly because it's always been in the desktop business and possibly because it learned from Google, plans to address this mindset from the get-go, ensuring the online version and desktop version are integrated -- plus adding support for mobile devices. Chris Capossela, senior vice president of the Microsoft Business Division, told CIO Today that customers want a "seamless, synchronized experience across those devices to help them work smarter, faster and better."


Microsoft unveiled its online Office at the Professional Developers Conference. The press release noted that some of these these applications have been available online on a limited basis, but this is the first time Microsoft has actually let users modify or edit documents online.


In typical Microsoft fashion, we're finding out about something way before we'll be able to use it. Word is, the online launch will coincide with the next version of Office and Windows 7, which won't be until next year or 2010, according to this Vnunet article published on TechNewsWorld. A beta is expected to be released early next year.


If you can't stand the suspense, CNET offered a walk-through of what the online Microsoft Office will look like, if you're curious.


And, of course, Google continues its push to integrate its services. The most recent announcement out of Gmail Labs is that users will be able to access its calendar and Google Documents from Gmail.


But the real pioneer here may be IBM. IBM recently launched the Lotus Symphony set of free online services, but this week, it upped the ante by announcing a new application that would be totally browser-based.


According to this Internet News piece, the company will use the browser as an application delivery platform for its Opus Una, a new product that lets users share audio and video in real time with high-definition quality. The article quotes David Boloker, the IBM Internet technology software group's chief technology officer, on why the product will be completely browser-based:

"Browsers are going to be standardized, and you can share widgets across them. As the browser has evolved into an application platform, it has allowed us to create rich applications; mashups are one example."

OK -- so what's so great about voice and data over the Web, right? I mean, hullo? YouTube?


IBM's project will let users share images typically too big to send via the Web -- including x-rays and MRI scans. Doctors will be able to view these images together and collaborate via the Web in real time. You got to admit: That's impressive.


Now if you'll excuse me, I've got a deadline to meet and I still have to copy and paste this post from my word processing document into my browser for publication.